Indian women want review of sexual violence coverage by global media

Women in India are eager for the global media to cover more stories of sexual violence “survivors” who have been able to rebuild their lives as a more positive perspective, according to a new research-based project.

A new radio documentary titled ‘BBC She: Badlein Nazariya (Change your viewpoint)’ to be aired by BBC News Hindi next week is based on conversations with young women from universities across India.

It found that women feel that media reports on brutal details of cases of sexual violence amplify the atmosphere of fear surrounding the issue rather than helping to resolve it.

As part of the special project, the UK-based news organisation’s Indian language services reached out to young women to find out what they want from media.

“BBC She is an inspiring project not only because of the great stories it brought up but also because it allowed us to listen so closely to women and to understand what they think of the way media cover subjects that matter to them,” said Juliana Iootty, BBC World Service Asia Region Editor.

Led by the news organisation’s Delhi-based Women Affairs Journalist Divya Arya, the team spoke with young women at universities in six cities—Patna, Vishakhapatnam, Coimbatore, Nagpur, Rajkot and Jalandhar—in Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati and Punjabi.

Arya, who anchored all six interactions at the universities, observes that women were clearly seeking “answers”.

“They want us to show examples where police and judiciary have brought about speedy and effective investigation and justice, where rebellion has not led to a violent end and where perpetrators have had to suffer or pay the cost of their crimes,” she said.

Far from wanting the media to paint a rosy picture where none exists, they seek in the coverage hope and positive examples that would help “open up” their lives rather than “restrict” them.

One student said: “The social boycott of rapists, the punishment they receive should be highlighted so it deters others from committing the crime. The media should not focus on what the woman was wearing or what she was doing (as they ask) their questions”.

Women said continuous, wall-to-wall coverage of rape discourages affected families—who don’t want victims’ identities to be revealed—from reporting such cases to the police. Although Indian law mandates that the identity of a rape victim be protected, women at the Magadh Mahila College in Patna believed that it wasn’t always the case.

This emphasis on moving the focus of the coverage away from the victim was echoed by many other participants.

The women also expressed a similar observation about media coverage of not only rape but any other violence against women, saying that media limited themselves to reiterating the problem rather than focusing on what was being done—or could be done—to combat it.

The university students involved in the project insisted that highlighting positive or constructive examples could be more effective in bringing change, and that media did not do enough of that.

They shared their wish lists of themes they want media to report on. These include sexual harassment, often referred to as “eve-teasing” in India and cyber-stalking, substance abuse, gender-discriminatory rituals and barriers in accessing government schemes.

They also said they wanted more stories about women entrepreneurs.

Source: The Tribune

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