Gender-sensitive reportage 101

As assembly polls knock on the doors of Karnataka, Meghalaya, Tripura and Nagaland, the Network of Women in Media, India, undertake a workshop for journalists on how to be gender-sensitive while covering the elections, and remind us to not pay mere lip service to women and sexual minorities.

Across the five sessions through the day, journalists from NWMi, a collective for women in media professions, illustrated the need for newsrooms to champion inclusive and sensitive coverage of women and transgender persons, in addition to the issues that directly impact them. In the introductory session, senior journalist Ammu Joseph explained the concept of gender lens, especially in the political context. She pointed out that the Global Media Monitoring Project consistently reports that the representation of women in news media is disproportionately low and increasing so slowly that it is still hovering around a quarter. 

Laxmi Murthy, consulting editor with Himal Southasian, led the interactive session on how one could bring in the gender angle without it being contrived. Besides the obvious focus on candidates and the electorate, she urged reporters and editors to shine a spotlight on all kinds of roles women play in the political ecosystem in India, like party workers, electoral officers, campaign managers, strategists, etc.

Following this, documentary filmmaker Raksha Kumar engaged R Poornima, the first woman in Kannada journalism to become an editor of a mainstream newspaper, in a conversation, on Karnataka politics and the role of women, that conveyed practical tips to ensure that gender angles are not missed out when covering the electoral process.  This included suggestions on current election issues that directly impact women, women as a vote bank, the history of reservation and its current impetus, etc.

Activist Anita Cheria and Uma, radio jockey and transgender rights activist, led the pre-lunch session on the political aspirations of transgender people and how they are engaging with the government to deliver empowerment and rights to their community. They spoke about the mistakes journalists make in their well-meaning attempts in highlighting the plight on the community and also the struggles they face when they try to participate in electoral politics – as candidates, campaign workers and even voters.

We sat down post-lunch again with R Poornima, who gave a brief overview of the history of caste politics in Karnataka – from Basavanna to Siddaramaiah. It touched upon aspects like the role of religious mutts, the state of Dalit politics and the caste forces that would be in play in the upcoming state elections.

We wrapped up the day with a session with Laxmi Murthy, who highlighted the importance of language in making sure all genders get the right kind of representation in any media coverage. This included recommendations like absolutely avoiding references to women’s appearance and clothes, checking with transgender subjects on which gender they identify with and also producing copies that are gender-neutral without being clumsy.

Further reading

  • Missing Half the Story: Journalism as if Gender Matters
  • Media and Elections: A Handbook
  • Resource Kit to Strengthen Gender Ethical Journalism
  • Media Tarts: How the Australian Press Frames Female Politicians