“Promoting Gender Sensitive Writing in Print Media”

Dr. Sharada, Nivedita, Janhavi


 [ Organised by Population First and the PGSR Dept.-SNDT Women’s University.

  Held on 26th August 2010, 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm at SNDT Women’s University]



               As part of Population First’s Laadli media advocacy campaign, a book on gender sensitive writing in print media, entitled “Missing – Half the Story” was commissioned in 2010 to coincide with the National UNFPA-Laadli Media Awards for Gender Sensitivity organized in May 2010.  A panel discussion was organized for the faculty and students of Mumbai University and SNDT University on the 26th of August at SNDT University’s Churchgate Campus.


            Addressing a well attended meeting, the main speakers, Ms. Kalpana Sharma, former Bureau Chief of Hindu, Mumbai and editor of the book and Ms. Sameera Khan, a journalist, and a collaborating author of the book spoke about what it means to be gender sensitive in media. Dr. Vibhuti Patel, Director, PGSR, SNDT University and Ms. Geeta Seshu, an independent journalist and columnist, were the other panelists and Dr A.L. Sharada, Programme Director, Population First, moderated the discussion.


            Dr. Vibhuti Patel welcomed the guests and the audience and briefed them about the topic for the discussion. Subsequently, Dr. Sharada spoke about Population First, the Laadli campaign and why there was a need to commission the book. The need for such a book was highlighted when the Population First team was interacting with working journalists and student journalists under its media advocacy initiatives. Often, examples of gender sensitive writing were identified and shared with the journalists. However, the reach of such efforts was limited. A book elucidating the gender sensitive writings, it was thought would help the message to reach a larger audience, particularly if it is incorporated into the curriculum of the journalism and media studies courses.  Ms. Kalpana Sharma - Editor of ‘Missing-Half the Story’, was called to share her experiences regarding gender sensitivity in print media as well as to introduce the book. 


              Kalpana Sharma, a senior journalist, spoke of the making of the book.  The book, she explained, addressed the needs of both journalists as well as the students of journalism.  Early in her career as a journalist, she realized that a gender perspective provides a holistic understanding of the issue. For instance, environment issues are always seen from ecological point of view but when viewed from the women’s perspective i.e. their dependence on fuel wood, the effect  of the depletion of forests and the impact of smoke from the fuel wood based chulhas on their health,  the story assumes a different perspective altogether. Gender sensitivity in print media is not just about writing but goes with other elements such as the headlines, sub-heads, and photographs which need to be gender sensitive along with the article. Placement of the story should be considered while designing the page. It would be totally insensitive, for instance to put a good article next to something frivolous.  Journalists often miss the women’s perspective in the story they are covering, and hence the story is never truly complete i.e. they are missing half the story and are therefore not able to represent half the population. A gendered lens allows one to gain deeper insights into all issues.


              Sameera Khan, who wrote a chapter on how media reports  gender violence, spoke at length about the insensitivity involved in the reporting. She condemned the atrocious language used by mainstream newspapers while reporting an incident of violence against women. Coverage of the TISS Rape case, the Aaarushi Talwar case as well as the Shiny Ahuja rape case were analyzed as examples of cases where the reporting lacked sensitivity and were exploited for the sleaze and voyeuristic purposes. She also delineated the class bias in reporting crimes against women. All the above cases represent the middle and upper middle classes and the media finds it much easy to identify with them.  She said that this points to a dangerous trend in the media i.e. blacking out stories about the marginalized and voiceless people. If dowry deaths are considered as routine and passé and are not reported, but a hue and cry is raised about high profile or middle class cases, it is very likely that they slip out of the consciousness of the people, further marginalizing and silencing the victims of such crimes. She stressed the need to have a more balanced reporting in media on crimes against women.


            Dr. Sharada, playing the devil’s advocate, initiated the panel discussion by asking the panelists whether the editors are interested in publishing such stories at all; journalists often complain that it is difficult to publish a gender sensitive story. Kalpana stressed on the importance of ensuring that it should be a good story and not a deliberate attempt to make it a women centric story. Gender should be integrated into every aspect of report writing and should not appear labored or deliberate. Sameera  advocated that journalists should find their own ways of maneuvering the system to see that their stories get published by stressing a few key words or terminologies that appeal to the management of the publication. Geeta Seshu agreed with the other two speakers and said that often any attempt to address gender issues is seen as activism and is shunned by the editors. Vibhuti responded that in the 70s and 80s a lot of journalistic activism on gender issues was supported by a  strong women’s movement; this is currently lacking. In fact many such journalists have moved away from mainstream media and started journals dedicated to women’s issues. 

            Dr. Sharada then requested Mahiti Pillay, a journalist who was working with DNA to share her experiences. Mahiti said that DNA being a daily, there is always a pressure to file the stories.  Writing women centric or gender sensitive stories often labels one as a feminist and many women journalists do not want to be seen as feminists for whatever it connotes. In fact they are the ones who deliberately keep the women’s perspective out of their stories.


            The discussion was thrown open to questions thereafter. The panelists were asked by a member of the audience if there were any changes after the reforms of ’91 and after the liberalization, globalization of economy and the boom in the media. She wanted to know if there was any hope of a change in journalism with respect to gender issues. Kalpana Sharma responded by saying that though currently it looks like we are going down but felt confident that there is hope because “because we cannot get worse than this”.


            Mr. Sista asked if male media leaders need to be sensitized to gender as they are the ones who actually determine which stories go into the paper. The panelists responded by saying that it is not a question of men or women but a question of good or bad journalism.


            Dr. Sharada then spoke about the need to have gender sensitivity included in the curriculum of journalism and also mentioned that students often found this topic extremely boring when in fact such a topic should result in stimulating and interesting discussions. She urged Dr. Vibhuti Patel, being an academician, to shed some light on this. Dr. Vibhuti then explained that at SNDT, several topics relating to gender have been included in the curriculum of all social science and humanity courses and Academic Staff Colleges have specific modules on the same. Dr.  Veena Poonach, Director, Research Centre for Women’s Studies, SNDT University said that efforts are on to mainstream gender into all the training programmes in the Academic Staff Colleges.


The panel discussion ended with a vote of thanks from Mr.S.V.Sista, Executive Trustee Population First and presentation of mementos to the panelists. 


( Dr. Sharada, Nivedita, Janhavi, Population First, Mumbai)



            The SNDT Women’s University Library proudly announces the establishment of the Networking and Information Dissemination Cell (IDC)  by the University Grants Commission (UGC), New Delhi, under the Capacity Building of Women Managers in Higher Education peogramme.  The IDC will launch the website http://www/ containing the following main sections of information:

  1. Bibliography of resource materials listing selected books, journal articles and thesis on capacity development of women managers in Higher Education as well as related topics which are likely to be useful to the registered members of the website
  2. 2) Digital Library: This contains a small section of full text articles. It has its own bibliography similar in structure to the Bibliography of resource material.
  3. Persons At present this section contains the details of the members of the National Coordinating Committee of the project and a few other persons. When completed this section will include all the people who have participated in at least one workshop under the UGC programme on Capacity building of Women Managers in Higher education. This
  4. Calendar of Events This lists the past events and also gives information about the forthcoming events.

The website also provides information about Women’s Studies Centres/Departments in Universities all over India. The teaching resource materials for conducting  training in Sensitization, Awareness and Motivation in Higher Education Management.