‘Getting the balance right’: Key takeaways from WIN’s gender in content training

WAN-IFRA Women in News advocates for a media industry that portrays men and women as equals in news content, in their professional roles and as sources of information. We have been working towards this goal for a decade with the aim of increasing women’s voices in the news by equipping journalists and editors with the skills, strategies and support networks they need to influence change.

In partnership with more than 90 media organisations in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab region and South East Asia, WIN conducts training that helps journalists understand the importance of gender balance, identify the different ways in which the media stereotypes gender, and develop organisational strategies to avoid gender stereotyping.

Last week, we took our training module to Mwananchi Communications in Tanzania. Here are some insights from Lilian Timbuka, who was among more than 20 participants who logged into the virtual session. 

What two things stood out the most for you from the gender balance in content training?

I learnt so much – but if I had to narrow it down to two things, the first would be that I got to understand how to be more vigilant about how I portray women and men in my stories. Gender stereotypes and biases can seep into content subconsciously, from the language used to talk about women and their roles, to the images we use. So if I’m not alive to the pitfalls, I could end up advancing misconceptions, especially about women, that have become commonplace in society. 

The second thing I learnt is that I need to read widely to learn new things. Some stereotypes are so subtle that we don’t identify them as such until someone else points them out. It’s important that journalists become aware of the ways in which they can unintentionally promote inequality. 

The training tackled how gender biases can show up right from when a story is assigned to a reporter. How do you think newsrooms can deal with this?

It is critical that newsrooms set up policies that specifically highlight the importance of gender balance in the stories they tell. We need to ensure our journalists use language that empowers not weakens women. We tend to portray women as timid, emotional or as victims, rather than as strong, confident or innovators. A newsroom policy that insists on language that is fair and ensures women’s voices are heard in stories beyond health, entertainment and crime will help bridge some of these gaps in news content. Another upside to shifting society’s ideas about women’s capabilities is that this will also help tackle some of the ills they deal with, including sexual harassment, intimidation and violence.

From what you learnt, how do you plan to implement gender balance in your newsroom? 

My biggest takeaway was the need to ensure that my stories don’t discriminate against any gender. It’s something I plan to discuss with my colleagues in greater detail. Opinions, voices and images used in storytelling should feature women and men equally – one group shouldn’t consistently be cast as the victim and the other the hero. 

In your opinion, what are the biggest barriers to gender balance in content in Tanzania?

I think we are still grappling with traditional ideas about what women can or cannot do, and customs that historically oppressed women. However, we have come a long way in recent decades. Women are capable of changing society for the better, and as journalists, we need to emphasise the strides they have made and support their continuing rise. 

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