Reporting on gender violence requires more than numbers

Date: May 6, 2011
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Name of article: YMCA records over 8000 cases of gender violence

Publication: Sunday Post

Country: Zambia

Theme: Gender violence

Skills: Use of data, sources

Genre: News

GEM classification: Gender aware

Description: The Young Women’s Christian Association of Zambia (YWCA) addresses the widespread problem of violence against women through public awareness on issues such as wife battery, property grabbing, HIV/AIDS awareness, youth reproductive health and sexual abuse. This is a gender aware article that provides frightening statistics on the extent of gender violence in the country, based on data collection by the YWCA. The writer exemplifies the levels of gender violence in Zambia by citing numbers from a single source. These numbers are not disaggregated by sex, which works on the assumption that only women are affected by gender violence. The story is rich with figures but it does not present more detailed, qualitative information on which the readership could act upon. While it is laudable that the article focuses on promoting the awareness of the extent of gender violence, it could have been vastly improved by expanding its number of sources. It could have been enriched if the writer provided more than just numbers, but quotes from survivors of gender violence or a YWCA representative.

This article may be used to:
–       Show the challenges journalists face in telling stories based on statistics as compared to qualitative information.
–       Show the importance of using multiple sources for a story.
–       Show the importance of having sex-disaggregated data.

Headline: The headline is appropriate as it accurately reflects the content of the story.

Sources: The story is single sourced. This is problematic as it makes the article less reliable. If multiple sources were used to demonstrate the extent of gender violence in Zambia, it would amplify the writer’s argument. In addition, only numbers are used to depict the problem and if sources citing qualitative information were drawn on, the writer could have provided a human face to the statistics. The writer should have considered getting more sources for the story in trying to give a clear picture of the situation other than basing a story on a single document.

Language: The language is gender aware but the use of words such as “defilementÀ and “successionÀ without explanations of their meanings could be seen as jargon since it cannot reach all the readers’ frames of reference. It is important to write in uncomplicated language so that the public who read newspapers can understand the article fully. If there are words that might not be understandable to the general public, it is the duty of the journalist to explain concepts in a clear way.

Story angle: This article does not take a particular position but rather cites the alarming statistics that the YWCA annual report exposes. Without taking a particular side or argument, the numbers are stated in a neutral way. Perhaps the writer found it difficult to present what the findings really mean, but it would have improved the story if some analysis and a position on the extent of gender violence in Zambia was incorporated into the article.

Placing or positioning: The story was on placed on page 6, which is a fairly good placement.

Trainer’s notes
The strength of this article is that it provides readers with staggering numbers of different types of cases of violence against women across Zambia. However, the fact that the violence has been inflicted upon women must be assumed by the reader because the statistics are not disaggregated by sex. The lack of disaggregated data would be confusing for a reader who does not know that the YWCA works exclusively with women. This article is gender aware because it addresses an important issue in Zambian society, but it could be vastly improved.

Data-driven journalism should strive to reach levels of service for the public, to help the readership understand gender violence patterns and to make decisions based on the findings. It is for this reason that it is important for the journalist to take the responsibility to provide both quantitative and qualitative information, to analyse statistics and to try to find numbers that are disaggregated by sex.

The article makes it rather difficult for policy makers and implementers to make an informed decision based on the data presented. The position of women, men and children is not clearly detailed in the story, which makes it difficult to tell who is disadvantaged and who is not. This demonstrates the importance of sex-disaggregated data. It would have vastly improved the article if this had been incorporated into the numbers cited.

Many institutions disaggregate data by sex, age and other factors. This is a practice that journalists should emulate when sourcing data for their stories. It helps to clarify to what extent women are disadvantaged and to find solutions through policy and program interventions.

The writer also should have strived to illustrate what the findings actually mean, from the perspective of someone who is affected by gender violence. If the statistics were complemented with the thoughts, experiences and views of survivors of gender violence, the article would have been richer.

Training exercises
–       Discuss the value of in-depth evaluation of data.
–       What is the importance of having sex-disaggregated data?
–       Discuss the importance of having multiple sources in a story.
–       Discuss the value of appropriate language in the story.

Other training resources

Using Gender to Transform Media Education and Journalism Training Curriculum at Tertiary Level by Pat Made.

Gauteng GBV Indicators research draft report by Gender Links and the Medical Research Council.

The South African “I” Stories Experience: Speaking out can set you free, written by Deborah Walter and Colleen Lowe Morna (Editors).

Violence against women in South Africa: a resource for journalists, written by Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication.

Report on Workshop on Covering Gender Violence in the Media: Zambia 2001

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