By Miren Gutierrez* and Oriana Boselli
ROME, Nov 26 (IPS) – “You don’t need to go far, it is all around us,” said Robert Dijksterhuis, head of the gender division in the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to a room mostly full of women. “Up to one in three women around the world has been abused in some way – most often by someone she knows,” he added, quoting UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) numbers.
The audience, a group of committed women – and men -, had gathered in Rome to discuss this widespread emergency and the role media have in relation to it in a conference organised by the IPS news agency and supported by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the city of Rome.
The U.N. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) reports in the paper “Violence against women worldwide” that up to 70 percent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime – the majority from husbands, partners or someone they know. Among women aged 15–44, acts of violence cause more death and disability than cancer, malaria, traffic accidents and war combined.
And violence against women is pervasive.
During the conference, IPS launched the handbook “Reporting Gender-Based Violence”.
Violence against women has presented particular challenges to the media and to society because of the way in which it has been consigned to the private sphere -dampening public discussions and stifling media debate. Yet, the media has the potential to play a lead role in changing perceptions that, in turn, can help galvanise a movement for change – says the introduction by IPS Africa, Director Paula Fray
The handbook deals with issues such as religious and harmful traditional practices, domestic violence, sexual gender-based violence, femicide, sex work and trafficking, sexual harassment, armed conflicts, HIV and AIDS, child abuse, the role of men, the criminal justice system, and the costs of gender-based violence, with real stories illustrating how these issues and trends can be tackled by the media, discussion points, fact checks and additional resources.
In South Africa, a woman is killed every six hours by someone she knows; in Guatemala, two women are murdered, on average, each day. In São Paulo, Brazil, a woman is assaulted every 15 seconds. Rape of women is widespread in armed conflicts such as those of Colombia and Darfur, Sudan.
This phenomenon affects not only developing countries, but also the developed world. In the U.S., 83 percent of girls aged 12–16 experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools, and one-third of women murdered each year are killed by partners; in the European Union between 40 and 50 percent of women experience unwanted sexual advancements, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace.
However, according to UNFPA, civil society, media and politicians have begun only recently to join their efforts to change the perception of the phenomenon of violence against women, trying to knock down the wall of indifference and misconstruction that has always surrounded it.
And this is where the media comes in.
According to the Italian Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Vincenzo Scotti, “communication can be one of the most powerful tools” in the fight against this type of violence.
In “Changing cultural and social norms that support violence”, the World Health Organisation (WHO) confirms that media – which have been successful in addressing a wide range of health issues – could play a bigger role in fighting violence.
Meanwhile papers like “The influence of media violence on youth”, published by the American Physiological Society, show how female victimisation in storylines reduces the perceptions of violence in the reality.
This problem is exacerbated by the under-representation of women in media and misrepresentation of their role. Media Monitoring Africa – a watchdog organisation that promotes fair journalism – denounces the scarcity of women working in the media and the marginalised way in which they are portrayed, often limited to victims or someone’s relative.