• Tuesday, June 2, 2015
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    New Media, Training and Gender at the Mekong Media Forum

    Mekong journalists and media experts gather in Chiang Mai, Thailand, from Dec. 9-12, 2009, to take part in the Mekong Media Forum.

    Mekong journalists and media experts gather in Chiang Mai, Thailand, from Dec. 9-12, 2009, to take part in the Mekong Media Forum.

    Forget ‘Gender’

    By Tess Bacalla

    CHIANG MAI, Thailand, Dec 12 – ‘Gender’ may not exist in all of Asia’s lexicons, but the concept is not necessarily alien to the region.

    “We don’t quite have the local term, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have concepts of gender,” Filipino anthropologist Michael Tan told the Mekong Media Forum.

    Talk about the standards or social constructs by which society labels certain segments of society — for instance, gay men, lesbians, metrosexuals, single or unwed mothers — and Asians societies have a notion, however hazy, of ‘gender’.

    But precisely because gender has no exact translation in many of the Asian languages, the term has come to be associated with “women’s issues,” says Tan, or in some cases “lesbians or gay men”. “Not a bad thing,” he says, acknowledging the important role of activism in a society that tolerates diversity and basic human rights.

    Yet in many parts of the region, the concept of gender is essentially still tied to and cannot disentangle itself — or at least not yet — from many of the raging issues confronting women in their societies — rooted in traditional beliefs and driven in many instances by a patriarchal mindset, which in general put women at a great disadvantage compared to men.

    Gender, Media Training and Citizen Journalism

    Media’s coverage of women compared to men reflects such tendencies. Among others, their voices are not being heard enough, says the panel of speakers at the one of the forum’s sessions called ‘Thinking, Reporting Gender’ in the Mekong media. (The session was one of two gender-focused sessions at the forum organised under the ‘Communicating for Change: Voice, Visibility and Impact for Gender Equality’ of IPS Asia-Pacific.)

    In Thailand, a 2005 study of print or broadcast material showed that less than half of the stories covered were about women, according to Rachanee Vongsumitr, a communication professor at Burapha University.

    “Why are women little covered?” she asks. The same study showed women hardly served as media sources of information, while men were generally acknowledged as “experts” in some specialised fields.

    In China, women’s visibility in the media appears to have helped in part by a national state policy recognising gender rights.

    Lu Pin, executive director of Media Monitor for Women Network in China, who also writes a newspaper column, says certain topics that used to be taboo are now finding print—and even making headlines. In her presentation, she showed the audience a picture of a lesbian couple, which was unheard of in the past. The issue of homosexuality, evidently, is finding public space, thanks in part to the media.

    Cai Yiping, executive director of Isis International, a Philippine-based international non-governmental women’s rights organisation, says for all of China’s image in the international community as a repressive society, such a policy exists.

    It is in the Constitution, she says, and one of the fundamental state policies even though they are not well known or accepted as much as the other policies such as those on environment or land use, she says.

    Such a policy has not necessarily translated into better media coverage of women, although Cai concedes that the media, in general, be it mainstream or alternative, are “pushing the boundary.”

    Yet, but both Cai and Lu acknowledged that a great deal of reporting in China about women’s issues is still inadequate, quantity- and quality-wise.  As such one still hears and reads media reports that, by their very portrayal of women or how certain stories are framed, still tend to blame female victims of violence for their plight. Yet, they say, there are still very few reports, say, about women in business or others making significant headway in otherwise male-dominated fields.

    Thinking Gender, Reporting Health

    As important as women’s issues are, Tan stresses that gender issues necessarily include the whole gamut of emerging “roles, categories or statuses” of individuals in society .

    He cites, for example, ‘house husbands’, who assume the domestic roles traditionally ascribed to women. “Because women now work overseas … men are taking over domestic work,” he explains. Does anyone (in the media) write about them? he asks.

    He says it is important for the media to recognise such roles or gender-related categories, including those involving gays and lesbians, “because they reflect the things that are going on in society”.

    Getting people to talk about these emerging categories also challenges society to question its deeply entrenched stereotypes about men and women.

    For activists like ISIS’s Cai, that does not even require using the word ‘gender’ or coining its exact translation in Asian languages.

    On the contrary, the media are able to help society address pressing gender-related issues. After all, says Cai, all gender issues are interrelated; you solve one gender problem, such as discrimination against women, and you contributing to solving others.

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