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Framing and messaging of media content

Last edited: August 12, 2020

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The way that an issue is ‘framed’ across the media - which means the exact language used and what the issue is related to – has a significant impact on the way it will be heard and understood (CCF, 2018; Lakoff, G 2006). Gender stereotypes and roles can also be endorsed or challenged through the use of particular ‘frames’ in talking about VAWG.

Violence against girls and women is a complex social issue and each form of VAWG can be described (‘framed’) in very different terms, which can implicitly support or condone the practice concerned. The issue may also be presented from different angles, in order to highlight something specific.  For example, discussing domestic violence with a focus on the health consequences for women and their children; discussing violence against women with respect to the financial costs to the family, community and society at large; or how gaps in state laws might be failing indigenous women, whose cases are being brought only to local adjudication mechanisms, etc. The way a story is pitched or framed will influence the way the audience perceives and understands it.

Using a Safety versus a Freedom Lens in the UK

Research in the UK showed that audiences responded quite differently to reporting on violence against women when it was presented from a safety perspective as opposed to a freedom perspective.

The research revealed that listeners had a negative reaction and feelings when sexual assault and sexual harassment were discussed in terms of the need to protect women’s safety. Audiences interpreted this as a certain level of abuse is inevitable and that a response by government or police was the solution. By placing the focus on safety as a specific women’s need, the fact that perpetrators should be dealt with or that men have a role in stopping abuse was made invisible. It also conveyed the message that women need to be protected which infantilizes them and removes their agency. In some contexts, this type of reporting can even inadvertently advocate for practices that further violate the rights of women and girls.  For example, through restrictions on their movement, ability to attend school or work, and/or isolating them further.

When messages were used instead to refer to women’s freedom and how VAWG may restrict women’s mobility, respondents reported being more alerted to the equality implications of VAWG and to the fact that the current situation is unfair and that it is not inevitable and does not have to be this way.

Source: EVAW (2014) Unpublished public attitudes research among 1,000 UK adults by YouGov for the End Violence Against Women Coalition, UK.

To find the right “frame”, it is important to:

  • Highlight how commonly accepted gender roles and stereotypes are implicated in the perpetration and acceptance of VAWG - e.g. men’s sexual entitlement as a justification for sexual violence.
  • Show the connections and commonalities between different forms of violence and general stereotypes e.g. the way racist stereotypes are used to explain VAWG in minority groups and communities.
  • Present strong, intelligent, empowered and diverse women role models and voices into the coverage.
  • Provide the other side of the story with existing research and evidence.

For example: Instead of 30% of men in Togo believe that it is acceptable for a husband to ‘beat his wife’,(Tran et al 2016) it can be reframed as 70% of men in Togo believe that it is unacceptable for a husband to ‘beat his wife’. 

Changing gender norms means using clear, consistent and accessible communication objectives that media partners and the community can understand and relate to and that can also be echoed by other groups and partners working in the same and complementary areas.  It also means working with media to craft messages or communication objectives that help to challenge harmful gender roles and stereotypes.

Consistent messages or communication objectives being delivered by diverse groups and individuals, including those with star appeal (e.g. sports figures, actors, politicians who have been vetted for upholding gender equality values and practices), can help to increase media workers’ perception of an issue as having legitimacy and urgency.

11 Ways to Work with Media (Australia)

There are some very useful guides on media messaging for violence against women and girls. Below are three key themes adapted from a recent Australian resource:

Talk about gender equality as key to preventing VAWG

Use statements and information that show the influence that gender stereotypes and inequality play in creating and supporting VAWG. Daily and simple terms to explain this drawn from the local context are most effective and better resonate with the target audience.

Discuss how other social factors support VAWG

Discuss that while changing gender inequality is fundamental to preventing VAWG, other factors such as racism, war, or government corruption, among many others may create an environment that can manifest in greater incidences of violence or in more extreme forms. Challenging and pervasive circumstances can also create normalization of violence and the risk of acceptance. Media should diligently deconstruct these international exchange and research in their communications and reporting. Examples drawn from the local context and in comparison to other similar contexts can be useful to highlight patterns.

Give examples of what people can do to prevent VAWG

Make it clear that everyone has a role to play in preventing VAWG, including governments, media, schools, workplaces, communities, families and individuals. Give practical examples relevant to your context including small tasks that can be done as part of everyday life as well as large-scale societal level changes that are needed. Ensure that the onus of responsibility in cases of violence against women and girls does not fall on the victim and make it clear that it is not her fault, nor her job to prevent it from happening.

See the full guide: http://www.thelookout.org.au/sites/default/files/11_Ways.Full_Guide.pdf

  • Using media messages or communication objectives and facilitating conversations which challenge gender roles and tackle inequality can take many different forms:
  • Using drama that does not position women in a ‘passive’ role and men in an ‘active’ role. Visible, empowered female role models are absolutely critical to having girls, boys, women and men see that women and girls can live their lives differently to the current expected ‘norm’.
  • Using social media to increase the visibility of women from minority groups that face discrimination as role models in leadership roles, both locally and nationally.
  • Using alternative forms of media, including social media and community radio, to facilitate inspiring conversations about women and girls’ experiences, views, activism and resistance.

Approaching news and entertainment media partners with real life stories that highlight women’s resilience in the face of violence instead of just focusing on their victimisation. These might include ‘fly on the wall’ reports (“unmediated reports which aim at showing the real behaviour of people, without the mediation of cameras or interventions from the journalists) about the work of interesting women activists of all ages and backgrounds, or what inspired the setting up of a women’s support service; or the women behind a grassroots campaign to challenge VAWG.

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