Gender transformative communication in the media

12.02.2024. / 11:20
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Ilustrcija sa naslovnice publikacije "Rodno transformativna komunikacija u medijima: Put prema inkluzivnosti i ravnopravnosti"
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In today's society, the issue of gender inequality is attracting an increasing attention, prompting a deeper consideration of the systemic and cultural dynamics that shape the lives of women and men. Society faces a serious challenge in the fight against gender inequality, both in social and economic, as well as political aspects of life, whilst recognition of its deep-rooted causes becomes crucial to achieving a more equal society.

Various dimensions of gender inequality pervade our everyday lives, from traditional gender roles to inequality in the workplace through both positions of power and unequal wages, from stereotypes in media reporting to unequal access to education.

Gender norms represent the rules and expectations that society has for people. Gender norms dictate the socially constructed roles and tasks expected of a person based on whether a person identifies as female or male. What shapes gender norms are stereotypes and prejudices, which are fixed beliefs about the role of men and women in the society.

The recognition of gender inequality goes beyond the basic recognition of the problem, it is a call for a deeper understanding and confrontation with the causes that lie in the foundations of gender inequality. Only through a thorough analysis can we form strategies that will encourage the transformation of social norms and institutions.

To achieve long-term change that will contribute to equality and equal opportunities, it would be important to consider and incorporate a gender-transformative approach to communication in the media.

What is gender transformative communication in media?

A gender transformative approach to communication can open the door to creating a society that encourages equal participation, supports diversity, and strongly advocates for justice and equality, regardless of gender. This evolution in the approach to gender equality promises deeper and more lasting changes in society, laying the foundations for a more inclusive future.

The issue of gender transformative approach and communication has been present in various spheres of social action for more than thirty years, and in the last decade there have been more and more scientific works, research and reports covering this topic. Much has already been accepted and adapted, but the need for the integration of this approach in all spheres of human activity is still present.

A gender transformative approach refers to strategies, policies or initiatives aimed at creating positive and profound changes in society through recognizing, confronting and transforming gender inequalities and norms. This approach goes beyond just recognizing the problem of gender inequality and seeks to fundamentally change the systems, institutions and social norms that contribute to gender inequalities. Gender transformative communication aims to change behavior, attitudes and beliefs about gender. It opposes discriminatory gender norms through images, language or other communication tools. This type of communication includes support for approaches that are oriented towards the abolition of gender inequalities and the promotion of gender equality.

When we talk about media organizations and the approach to gender transformative communication, we are talking about encouraging inclusivity and diversity in reporting, and equality within the newsroom. By promoting positive stories about different identities related to sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, class, economic, we contribute to gender equality in the media.

Often the internal organizational structure is the place that in the best way exemplifies gender inequality through positions of power and decision makers. Unequal opportunities are reflected in all aspects of activity, often leaving women in the background.

Gender imbalance in organizations is a complex phenomenon that can be seen in the organizations’ structures, processes and practices. It is often expressed through human resources because human resources practices, i.e. policy, decision-making or their application affect the employment, training, salary and promotion of women. Various studies show that men are most often in positions of power and decision-making, and even when there are women, they often perpetuate patriarchal patterns of behavior, which are no different from the men in those positions.

The internal organizational structure can reflect gender imbalance and inequality in different ways, and some of the key elements are:

  • distribution of power and positions;
  • wage differences
  • diversity in management positions
  •  workplace culture
  • employment and career development policies
  • lack of equality in decision-making.

Principles of gender transformative communication

Below is a list of five principles that are part of the article "Gender transformative approaches in international development: a brief history and five uniting principles" published in the journal "International Women's Studies International Forum" in November 2020.

The article, among other things, includes identifying five unifying principles to support future research and practice that incorporates a gender transformative approach.

Gender transformative language and examples

Gender transformative communication in the media significantly influences language use, encouraging changes in vocabulary and sentence construction to support gender equality. This can also be reflected in the use of gender-neutral language.

Below are some examples that can serve as an illustration and a new perspective of using the neutral language of the gender transformative approach when reporting:

Instead Use
"stewardess" or "steward" "flight attendant"
"firemen" "firefighters"
"nurse" or "medical staff" "healthcare professional"
"housewife" or "househusband" "homemaker"
"son" or "daughter" "child"
if you do not know who is being identified
"a man with a bag" or "a woman with a hat" "a person with a bag" or "a person with a hat"

These examples refer to those moments when you don't know exactly what gender something refers to, or when you're generally talking about, say, medical staff or someone's child for whom you don't know exactly whether that person identifies as male or female.

In addition to neutral language, using inclusive terms that encompass different gender identities can create space for all people, regardless of their gender.

Example: Instead of "all men and women", use "all people" or "all persons".

Rejecting the binary model in language encourages recognition of the diversity of gender identities. Also, avoiding language constructions that support gender stereotypes helps deconstruct prejudice.

Example: Instead of "male jobs" and "female jobs", use "jobs open to all" or "jobs in all sectors", or just "jobs".

When we talk about highlighting the professional titles of people, it would be important to ask those people exactly how they want to be signed. Avoid introducing people who identify as women using professional titles in the masculine gender.

Example: when talking about women: Instead of "president" use "female president", "politician" use "female politician", "professor" use "female professor", "director" use "female director", "miner" use " female miner" and alike.

These examples illustrate how gender transformative communication changes language to be more inclusive and gender neutral and to reduce prejudice. Such changes in the language contribute to the creation of a media environment that reflects the diversity of gender identities and supports gender equality.

Gender transformative visual material

Gender transformative visual material refers to photographs, video, illustrations, graphics, artwork and other media representations, which are intended to support and promote gender equality and diversity. These images aim to convey positive and inclusive messages about different genders, avoiding stereotypes and prejudice, whilst promoting awareness of the diversity of gender identities.

Gender-transformative visual material is one that actively challenges and changes gender-biased norms.

Key characteristics of gender transformative visual materials include diversity of gender identities, deviation from stereotypes, equal and positive representation of women and men, inclusiveness in different contexts, representation of gender dynamics, empowerment and self-confidence.

According to the available research in the world and in the Western Balkans, men are more often represented in the media, both through media content and accompanying materials (photos, videos, illustrations...) even when the topic it is not directly about a specific man or a group of men.

Here are some examples of photographs that incorporate a gender transformative approach, and take into account everything that has been said so far:

The integration of such visuals into media reporting helps create a balanced and informed representation of men and women, as well as the diversity of all people, regardless of their gender or gender identity.

The media can act as a platform for the transformation of gender norms, with a focus on the internal structure of the media, and the importance of the language and equipment of media reporting.

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The text is a shortened version of the publication "Gender Transformative Communication in the Media: The Path to Inclusivity and Equality", which you can download via the following links: Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian/Montenegrin, ENG.

We have also created a short quiz for you to test your knowledge on this topic, be sure to complete it.

We remind you of the BMAP FORWARD initiative of FEMBASE, which tries to solve the problem of the constant lack of women's voices in the media in the Western Balkans. If you are a woman and want to be in our database, we encourage you to fill out a short form. 

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