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September 2nd, 2010
IPS Asia-Pacific's Johanna Son introduces the glossary

IPS Asia-Pacific's Johanna Son introduces the glossary

MANILA – The need to teach students early about gender-sensitive language. Examples of how media reports pass on prejudices in some stories, and mistake gender blindness for political correctness in others. Some editors and writers’ discomfort with asking frank questions when they hear the word ‘gender’.

These are some of the topics that came up for lively discussion at the August 2010 launch of the third edition of the ‘Gender and Development Glossary’, held at the ISIS Intl conference room in Quezon City, Philippines. A mix of journalists, gender and reproductive health experts, professors and civil society advocates made sure there was a variety of opinions at the discussion around words, gender, language and media that day.

IPS Asia-Pacific Regional Director Johanna Son, who edited the publication, opened the discussion by sharing the views from journalists who had been interviewed about their views on what gender-unfriendly terms to avoid and their views of what made for a gender-sensitive story. Many of the replies, collated ahead of updating the Gender and Development Glossary, showed a tendency to equate gender sensitivity with not mentioning the sex of a source in the story, which Son said often means that, especially in the case of names where one cannot easily tell the speaker’ s sex, readers cannot tell whether the person speaking is a he or she. Using ‘chair’ instead of ‘chairwoman’ or ‘chairman’ also does the same thing.

“Political correctness can go overboard,” agreed Dr. Michael Tan, dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Social Science and Philosophy who is also reproductive and gender expert in the South-east Asia. “Language really shapes the way we think.”

He also encouraged IPS to work with local groups on developing tools like the gender glossary in local languages, so that the process of discussing media language from the gender perspective can bring out discussions on prejudices and stereotypes in societies. Changing language is far from a easy thing, however. Tan recalls medical doctors saying that some Filipino women in poor settings are so used to using the word ‘ginamit’ (‘used’ in Filipino) to refer to sex that they don’t understand questions when they are asked ‘when did you last have sex with your husband?’ but will understand ‘Kailan ka huling ginamit ng asawa mo?’ (When were you last used by your husband’?) Tan, along with Prof. Elizabeth Enriquez, also of the University of the Philippines, said they would like to see the glossary used in university classes, adding that there are not many tools like it. “We do need to get students while it’s early,” Tan said.

Dr. Marilen Danguilan, a health policy adviser, says that to her, gender-sensitive reporting is simply a way of reporting based firmly on a human rights approach. The jargon around gender, and even the word itself, she says, can make the term so ‘big’ that many, including writers, get lost in trying to understand it for fear of being seen as politically incorrect. “I have a problem with the word gender,” she said, adding that “gender is a donor-driven word.”

“It’s good to have a glossary as a tool” to help understand the issues around this, “but it’s also the thought process (that matters),” she added.

Talking about words, language, media and mindsets

Talking about words, language, media and mindsets

For his part, journalist Jaemark Tordecilla of the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) said that news desks tend to assume that assignments that have to do with women or have a gender angle should ‘naturally’ go to women, so that male reporters can have fewer opportunities to do such assignments. He also asked how the gender lens can be used in coverage of conflict situations, to which other participants suggested looking into issues like how are women and men affected differently by war, among others. (He blogged about his reflections here).

Some discussion focused around what Son shared, from experience, as difficulties by journalists and editors alike when it comes to gender – some think that they should not report any ‘bad’ news about women, others think they had better tiptoe around it, some use a heavy dose of development jargon that has no place in news stories, and others may try to treat a gender story like they would a crime story.

There was also debate about how to refer to abortion and legal reform advocates who would like to have it legalised, given that abortion is an emotion-laden word, especially in mainly Catholic countries like the Philippines, and suggestions on other terms to include in possible future editions of the glossary.

Dr. Florence Tadiar of the Institute of Social Studies and Action added that she hopes the glossary can help journalists report better on gender and other issues in society, adding that “now even all government officials know the terms in this book”.

Read articles about the launch of the Gender and Development Glossary here:

– Words and Meanings by Rina Jimenez-David, ‘Philippine Daily Inquirer

Male reporters & the gender lens by Jaemark Tordecilla

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