The Scoop! (on gender) in Emergencies

By Ray Leyesa

NATURAL disasters are often big news that create international headlines and bring in their wake the traveling media in all its crazy-quilt diversity. The limelight goes of course to the blow-dried anchormen and women of the networks with their retinues of fixers, producers, drivers and of course security folks.

But a new breed of reporter, usually young men and women, often self-described as “backpack journalists” are just as likely to show up these days. Light on their feet they typically have a $10,000 video camera tucked into a bag and can have broadcast quality video on the wires in a matter of minutes.

They’re an interesting bunch, typically freelance and occasionally by media support organizations like The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting or Reporters Without Borders. They typically look behind the headlines for meaning and understanding, long after the big media caravans with their celebrity reporters have skipped town.

The guide includes information on:

  • Climate change
  • Disaster reporting
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health
  • Trafficking
  • Peace and Security
  • Violence Against Women

The disaster story these journalists are after is about recovery and risk reduction, two crucial themes. They are the sort of stories that can have a big impact on audiences far away and anyone delivering humanitarian aid in an emergency is well positioned to assist.

The journalist needs to have the stories recounted through the voices of disaster survivors, since they know firsthand the human suffering, the devastation and the consequent endurance and courage in recovery. Their stories not only convey the powerful reality on the ground but also the determination of the people to move on. These stories provide context and understanding of the effects of disaster on people’s lives. But if the stories prublished and aired fail to reflect the reality of half of the population, they fall into the trap of so much contemporary journalism.

A good example is the reporting on Japan’s nuclear disaster last year which almost universally failed to highlight the extra significance of nuclear fallout for women in terms of fertility and cancer risk. This was an opportunity lost. Stories written with these goals in mind appropriately convey the tragedy to the rest of the world but also builds support and understanding in order to mobilize a response that benefits all segments of affected communities.

The advice I have cited above is drawn from a terrific new resource, The Gender-Ethical Journalism and Media House Policy.

It contains a particularly useful handbook that can help journalists and those interacting with them to focus more on gender sensitivity in reporting disasters, human trafficking, peace and security and violence against women.

I particularly like the section on gender in disaster reporting, which is where so many young would-be foreign correspondents cut their teeth. Increasingly these disasters are a result of more severe weather, probably brought on by climate change. This was the impact of Hurricane Sandy on Haiti and Typhoon Washi on Mindanao last year.

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Ray Leyesa is a Communications Specialist for IOM