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UN Women, UNFPA and Media Inside Out Group joined forces with media practitioners from Asia and the Pacific, aiming to raise gender equality and reproductive health rights issues at the core action for development. 

Thirty-three media practitioners and editors from 23 countries across Asia and the Pacific attended a training Workshop for Journalists on “Women’s Rights, Reproductive Health and Global Development Priorities”, co-hosted by UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific and UNFPA Asia and the Pacific Regional Office, during 11-13 September 2013.

Roberta Clarke, Regional Director, UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific said the workshop aimed to discuss barriers and opportunities in different cultures, as well as to share ideas on strengthening gender analysis framework for the media so as to work together in advancing human rights, especially women’s rights.

Mr. William A. Ryan, UNFPA Regional Communications Adviser for Asia and the Pacific said on behalf of the UNFPA Regional Director hoped that the workshop would raise gender equality and reproductive health rights issues at the core action for development.  This is in line with the speech of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), particularly the eradication of poverty and hunger, cannot be achieved if question of population and reproductive health are not squarely addressed. And that means stronger efforts to promote women’s rights and greater investment in education and health, including reproductive health and family planning.”

The participants shared about the role of media and obstacles in promoting sexual and reproductive health rights, as well as strategies for overcome obstacles in helping to promote sexual and reproductive health rights.

“In countries like Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, there is not enough room or space for gender and reproductive health issues because hot issues are corruption and political conflicts,” said Ms. Rita Widiadana of the Jakarta Post, Indonesia. 

In some of the Pacific Island countries, bureaucracy is among main obstacles because politicians are reluctant to give information. Such stories do not necessarily change the societies where there are massive numbers of population like India.

“It is like a drop in the ocean,” said Ms. Rema Nagarajan of Times of India, “we have written these issues for decades and editors usually ask what’s new about these issues.”

In China there is a lack of information as reporters fear to report these issues on national broadcasts like CCTV. This is because people will think that the message is the voice of the government. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, people do not talk much about these issues due to religious belief. 

Among the methods to overcome these barriers are to use laws relating to the right to be informed to help media seeking information.  In Iran, radios are successful channels in disseminating health information, said Mr. Emad Abshenas of Iran Daily.

Other strategies are to make these issues more appealing and more imaginable to audiences by making documentary films as successfully practiced in the Philippines; to create phenomenal

“Let’s Talk” campaigns on children’s day or women’s day, which are currently practiced in China, and to make use of columnist spaces, as suggested by the Cambodian delegate Tong Soprach.

Dr. Josephine Sauvarin, Technical Advisor on HIV/Adolescence Sexual and Reproductive Health from the UNFPA shared some insights on “Youth Sexuality and the Media”, saying that among barriers to tackling reproductive health problems are culture of silence and double standard. Many communities do not talk about young people having sex while many countries expect that girls must be pure and virgin and turn a blind eye to boy’s sexual experimentation. Many countries, including Thailand, have included sex education in their school curriculum but the content is exclusively biology.  While Thailand’s sex education is considered far ahead among many countries, there is a long way to go.      

She stressed that there were misconception and misinformation about comprehensive sexuality education that it will foster earlier sexual debut or unsafe sex.  Actually, good quality sex education can delay initiation of sexual intercourse by 37% and decrease the number of sexual partners. 

Participants’ group discussions included how the media can make arguments to reverse misconceptions on reproductive and sexual health issues, such as “contraceptive is a women’s issue”, “promoting sex education among the youth will increase premature sex among them”, and “promoting safe abortion will encourage promiscuity and increase the number of abortion.”

Facilitator Ginger Norwood gave a brief introduction to the participants on global research on gender analysis on media, using findings of Global Media Monitoring Projects with publication on November 2009 on website. The project was conducted using 1281 media sources in 108 countries. She noted that one of obstacles is lack of spaces for women’s issues, which is part of a larger picture of gender inequality.

Among the findings are only 24% of news subjects (the people in the news) are female; and stories that reinforced gender stereotypes account to 24% in Asia and 77% in Africa. Stories promoting gender equality account to 3% in Asia and only 1% in the Pacific. 

Guidelines for reporting on gender issues were discussed, which included:

  •       Refrain from using descriptions of women that include: physical, marital or family status,
  •      Make sure that a gender balance is respected in the choice of “experts” or witnesses, and  be sure to give women their own title, name and voice and not the “wife of someone”.
  •        Never report details that could put survivors at further risk, including names, photographs,orother identifying information of survivors, and their family members.

Another interesting discussion topic to promote gender equality and women empowerment was to or not to set up a gender desk in media organization. Ms. Babita Basnet from Nepal shared that gender desks didn’t work in her organization as some issues will be neglected and limited. She suggested that gender topics should be integrated in all desks.  Mr. Ednal Palmer from Solomon Islands viewed that having a desk doesn’t necessary mean more women empowerment while Mr. Ahmed Afruh Rasheed from Maldives said that mandates of gender desk should be monitored. Most of the participants viewed that gender desks mean more columns, more space for these issues and the desks can prioritize the issues, which are ignored by political desks.

Sara Gabai, Programme Assistant, Communication & Information from UNESCO said that it was important for UNESCO, and UN Women to partner and work with journalists in order to promote gender mainstreaming at policy and executive levels. She encourages participants to join the first Global Forum on Media and Gender to be organized by UNESCO, UN Women, and media in December this year. This forum will be an important follow-up to one of the critical areas of concern of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, including media pluralism and diversities as well as roles of social media on women empowerment, which is relevant to current situations.

Among participants’ suggestions to UNFPA and UN Women on how UNFPA and UN Women can work together with media to promote reproductive health rights and gender equality are 1) scholarships or assignments covering expenses to be offered to journalists to make more social impacts on these issues, 2) inviting chief editors and media owners to be involved in this kind of workshops for better insights in these issues, and 3) holding field trips for journalists to get first-hand experiences and practical knowledge on family planning and women issues. 



Gender in the Newsroom