Write Rights July 2002 – Editor’s Desk

Date: January 1, 1970
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From the Editors desk: Rediscovering passion

By Colleen Lowe Morna

In Zambia, a room of hushed journalists sat stunned as a young woman from a deep rural area recounted the horrific violation of her body by her husband after they failed to conceive, or in his mind, she failed to conceive.

In South Africa, a young woman accountant spoke of eight years of psychological and physical torture that ended in her husband being shot by a rival, and the agony of unearthing a criminal past that she had never been aware of.

In Namibia, a young girl of less than sixteen, now in the process of reconstructing her life, spoke of the trauma of serial sexual abuse during a childhood that never was.

In Zimbabwe, a young woman who now serves as housekeeper for Harare’s only shelter for survivors of gender violence told of how six years ago she had plucked up the courage to leave her philandering husband because of her conviction that if she did not, she would contract HIV AIDS. In early 2002 her estranged husband died. She and her two children are well.

In Mauritius, a person living with HIV AIDS spoke for the first time to a group of journalists in an island where the pandemic has not yet been felt, yet where already women living with HIV suffer more stigma than men.

In Malawi, a young male reporter ventured into the underworld of Blantyre to talk to sex workers, writing a riveting story on the vicious circle of violence that followed one woman from an abusive childhood to the crimes of violence that go unreported in her outlawed work.

In Mozambique a young male journalist on the course asked if he could give his own testimony of gender violence in his home. His voice quivering with emotion, the journalist explained that he had signed up for the course not only because of his personal experience, but also because of his commitment to end gender violence.

Media practitioners are trained to be dispassionate about their work. Being dispassionate is equated to being fair when in fact a combination of fairness and passion is the very essence of powerful media. In the seven country and two provincial workshops run by Gender Links as part of the first phase of its work on training media practitioners to cover gender violence, the media began not only to find its voice, but also to rediscover passion, that fiery ingredient so critical to social change.

The project has its roots in the Second Southern African Development Community (SADC) Conference on Eliminating Violence Against Women and Children held in Lesotho in December 2002. Gender Links, in partnership with Inter Press Service, ran a parallel training workshop for the media. This served the dual purpose of producing a daily newspaper and bumper supplement for the conference as well as opening the eyes of 36 Southern African journalists to some of the most common and brutal violations of human rights of our time that until recently hid behind the closed door of "the home". The passion at this gathering led to the launch of the Southern African Gender and Media (GEM) Network that recommended that such training be cascaded to country level.

Carry over funds from the workshop (funded by the Department of International Development of the United Kingdom) went towards the first country training, hosted by the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism in South Africa. In June 2002, the Ford Foundation approved a grant to extend the training to six SADC countries. Hivos provided seed funds to cascade the training deeper into South Africa with two provincial workshops. The Open Society Initiative (South Africa and Southern African Offices) have provided further funds to extend the training to all nine South African provinces, and a further six Southern African countries.

The workshops attracted experienced print and electronic media practitioners- male and female. Salient features of the workshops are summarized below:

South Africa IAJ
In house
Zambia Zambian Institute of Mass Communications (ZAMCOM)
The National Mirror
Malawi Malawian Institute of Journalism
The Malawi Chronicle
Zimbabwe Inter Press Service
The Daily news
Namibia The Polytechnic of Namibia
The Namibian
Mauritius The Media Trust of Mauritius
Mozambique NSJ Trust
Eastern Cape Masimanyane
In house
Northern Province  

Each of the five- day country workshops were held in partnership with a local media training institution, and in close collaboration with local media houses that carried four page supplements on the workshops. Several radio and TV stations covered the workshops. Zambian participants produced a TV documentary and Malawian participants a radio documentary on the training. Community radio stations from the Eastern Cape produced several features and documentaries for their stations. Dozens of gender activists provided information, helped to organize field trips and facilitated access to survivors of gender violence.

In early June, the Gender Links staff, board members and trainers involved in the project met to study the evaluations from the workshops and to conduct and in- house assessment of the training. Strengths identified included:

  • Screening: Participation is competitive. The courses are advertised, rather than participants being invited. Those chosen include the most senior possible male and female journalists from a mix of print and electronic media.
  • Involvement of male journalists: Male journalists comprised over one third of participants. Even more important is the personal growth and commitment of that these male colleagues have shown. For example, in Zambia a male journalist was chosen to lead the Zambian Gender and Media Watch (ZAMWATCH) and has started a gender forum at his workplace. A fellow Zambian colleague has started a weekly radio programme on gender at his radio station. In Mauritius a male journalist has taken up a case of sex discrimination at his workplace. Male media trainers who participated in the Zimbabwe training have become among our most active collaborators. In Malawi, a male journalist and Catholic priest became one of the most active contributors to the on-line training. All these and many more examples go to show the invaluable contribution that men have to make in ending gender violence.
  • Involvement of gender activists: This building up of contacts is an essential part of the on-going task of media coverage of gender violence.
  • Productions during the course: These add immensely to the level of concentration and sense of purpose during training.
  • Post workshop coverage: Participants are required to produce at least two articles or two programmes post the workshop before certificates are awarded. This ensures that the training is put into practise and tested. Certificates are based on performance- not just on attendance.
  • On- line training: facilitates backstopping and monitoring for several months after the face to face training; as well as cross fertiliztion of ideas across SADC countries and peer learning.
  • Rights/Writes journal: Provides a further tool for monitoring and reflection.
  • Country Chapters of the SADC GEM Network: These provide a forum for participants in- country to "own" the campaign and take it forward. As reflected in the journal there are now advanced plans in both Zambia and Mauritius to establish gender and media watches as an outcome of the gender violence workshops.
  • Training of trainers and involvement of local media training institutions: The fact that all the training workshops have been held in conjunction with local media training institutions, and involved local trainers as co-facilitators, is critical to sustaining the work.
  • Personal growth and development: Many journalists and trainers responded to the call in this journal to write about their personal growth and development as a result of the training. Their accounts speak for themselves.
  • Synergies: The gender violence training has been linked to, or helped to prompt a number of important related initiatives below.

Among the initiatives that Gender Links in involved in that have a close link to the gender violence training are:

  • A new publication: "Gender in Media Training" (that draws extensively from examples obtained during the gender violence training) in partnership with the Institute for the Advancement of Journalism;
  • Projects to mainstream gender in media training with the Polytechnic of Namibia and ZAMCOM, supported by the Frederich Ebert foundation;
  • A training of trainers in mainstreaming gender in media education in collaboration with the NSJ Trust, supported by the Netherlands Institute of Southern Africa; the first ever gender and media baseline study for Southern Africa in collaboration with the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA);
  • Plans for concerted campaigns in three South African provinces during the Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence with the support of Australian (Aus) Aid.
  • The Gender Links website (genderlinks.org.za) where all the gender violence reports are posted;
  • The soon to be launched Electronic Gender and Media (E-GEM) Network.

We are painfully aware, however, that even with all this, we have only scratched the surface:

  • Gender violence is one of the most complex areas of media reporting. Sources are not easy to reach, and often not comfortable about talking to the media. There is a vicious negative circle. It takes courage and commitment to start changing this. Constant monitoring and follow up training are required.
  • While the Internet has provided a tool for follow up training and networking across countries, it still has severe limitations. Even now, many journalists in the region do not have direct access to an Internet address and their usage is often limited both in terms of time and access. Future projects need to take into account assisting journalists to have better access to IT.
  • With regard to the course itself, we are reviewing the original training manual to keep it updated and relevant. We have learned that we need to provide more time for group work, perhaps with fewer speakers.
  • Gender violence is but one dimension of gender reporting. Indeed, gender is often automatically associated with gender violence in the minds of editors looking for sensational stories. This year, again with the support of the Ford Foundation, we begin a new project on gender, media and HIV AIDS. The Rio Plus Ten Summit in South Africa opens a new window for us on gender and sustainable development. We also have plans to develop media training material on gender and governance, based on an exciting new research project that we are undertaking on the qualitative difference that women’s voices bring to decision- making, supported by the Mott Foundation and the European Union Human Rights Foundation.

This journal, supported by the Ford Foundation, is a rich collection of the stories and subsequent reflections of participants, trainers and those whom we worked with on the first phase of the gender violence project. We hope that support can be found to make it a quarterly bulletin that tracks the progress not only in this area of work, but in the bigger task of bringing gender balance to media reporting.

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