Each news report “wreaks” havoc on gender issues.
Gender issues can be volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous at times in the media.
“You may not see it but those of us who appreciate the gender issue see it every day. It would be nice if it is framed in such a way that there will not be uncertainty, ambiguity and volatility but instead send a message that gender inequality will not be encouraged,” Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) Ayanna Webster-Roy told media and communications personnel attending a training workshop on Wednesday, January 29.
The two-hour workshop on ‘Gender Sensitivity’ which was hosted by the OPM (Gender and Child Affairs) aimed to increase sensitivity to the significance of gender and gender-related issues that directly or indirectly frame the public’s understandings of gender.
Research shows that how and what is said are framed by gender. How messages are framed consciously or unconsciously evoke cultural beliefs, according to Webster-Roy.
She observed despite increasing numbers of articles and discussions on social media, persons may not see a difference in gender equality in the future unless a conscious effort is made to “disrupt the trend”.
The minister told those present to begin looking at the messages through gender lenses.
“So, we want you to frame your messages in such a way that it promotes the eradication of gender-based violence and domestic violence.”
This she said, can be achieved by, for example, focusing on the rights of individuals and the right of a woman to live a life free of violence.
Gender justice language
Some forms of language directly or indirectly reproduce gender-based violence and sexism.
This according to feature speaker Dr Sue Ann Barratt, Doctor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Gender Studies IGDS, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine.
Barratt acknowledged that while it is “very hard” to admit that one is “perpetuating violence” when it is not the intent, confronting and modifying one’s language is critical.
At the start of her talk, Barratt distributed a list of news headlines from 2018–2020 which explicitly address gender and gender-based violence. She asked grouped participants to rank headlines presented to them in order of what appeared to be factual and objective, or sensationalised or editorialised.
In so doing, she asserted that to communicate for gender justice means confronting one’s own implicit norms and presumptions of what is okay and what is not.
She asked persons their thoughts on seeing a news headline ‘23-year-old Trini mom killed’.
“A woman is killed but we have certain feelings about mothers. So, the moment we see the story, we legitimise the woman based on her gender role. The truth is it distracts us from the fact that women, whether mother or not, are killed,” she said.
She then prompted whether persons felt the same way on reading a headline story ‘Side chick killed’.
‘No!’, she said.
“These words in themselves import meaning. It’s called biased foregrounding which means we place particular sets of meaning ahead of the very facts we think we are making more salient.”
Ultimately, Barratt hoped media and communications personnel would understand the ideological implications in their linguistic habits and how to process the relationship between their language use, thoughts, and constructions of reality.