This year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Violence Against Women coincides with the release of the Wits State of the Newsroom Report, which contains a roundtable discussion with womxn working in the media. In this report, women journalists and news producers express frustration at how our South African media do not cover gender-based violence (GBV) consistently throughout the year. They explain how hard it is to pitch stories of rape or intimate femicide to male editors. How radio or TV presenters who are men might not do a gender-based violence story justice. How they (men) might cover it without showing the necessary sensitivity or kindness shown to the survivor. Quote This Woman+ wants to change that.
Quote This Woman+ (QW+) is a non-profit organisation run by a small team of mainly volunteers that curates a database of women – and otherwise marginalised – experts that journalists can access when looking to close the reporting gender gap, and to broaden their sources that they use for their news stories. We also lobby media organisations around bias in their news reporting, and train womxn media experts to hold their own in the media spotlight. Currently there are around 400 women on the QW+ database, and more than 100 of them are experts in gender-related topics.
Read more: The Daily Vox’s 16 days of activism
While we stand with the 16 Days of Activism campaign, and appreciate the attention it brings to this devastating reality, Quote This Woman+ doesn’t think 16 days out of 365 cuts it. So what have we been doing about that? At QW+, part of our job is to inform journalists who the women+ are that they should be quoting on current affairs. Every fortnight we send more than 400 journalists a newsletter profiling members of our database. This year, we made a conscious decision to make GBV a current affair the whole year. Each of our newsletters has gone out with at least one expert who can speak on gender or GBV specifically. Unfortunately, we seldom get requests for these experts’ contact details. The stories that require their expert commentary are not the media focus.
Which is why it’s so heartening when media like The Daily Vox appear in our inboxes: reminding us that there are always exceptions to the rule. According to one global survey, if we continue at the current rate of progress it will take another 75 years to achieve gender equality in the media. Change needs to happen faster.
The media’s role in the fight against GBV is to report on GBV regularly, consistently, sensitively, and without bias, There are many excellent reporting toolkits for any journalist or newsroom still not sure how to go about this.
The reader’s role in this process is to become more discerning in the media you consume – and to use your voice to help speed up the change process. Begin by consciously watching how women are portrayed in the news you read, watch and hear – and call out biases when you see them. Look out for news descriptors that feed into limiting definitions of women (“mother of four”) or that diminish or remove women’s agency in other ways. Descriptors like “woman doctor” send a message that it is not normal for a woman to be a doctor. Apply the gender reversibility test (would a man be portrayed in exactly the same way?). Start by looking at the adjectives and adverbs used: if they consistently fall into classifying a woman into traditional tropes of victim/mother/home-maker/seductress – get your news elsewhere, or call them out.
Lastly, if you know of an expert, who should be on our database, let us know. We are looking for women or marginalised peoples with expertise in any and all topics.
Women and men experience life differently. When women’s voices and perspectives are absent in the news, their realities are not reflected, and issues that strongly affect these voices become invisible. As we navigate a world beset by pandemics (health, gender violence, economic fallout, environmental fallout), which is too often interpreted by fake news and binary thinking, these nuanced perspectives can become critical in deepening and broadening how we make sense of now. Equally importantly, they are what allow us to find our way forward into the future.
Jordan Magrobi is the database manager at Quote This Woman+. She is currently doing a PGDip in Sustainable Development, and believes that gender empowerment is vital to achieve sustainability. In her free time, you’ll find Jordan peeking into rockpools or reading on the beach.