Journalism is an essential lever in the fight against gender-based violence

Media narratives and how they are shaped would ultimately determine how the social and gender norms are shaped.

Maha Damaj
Maha Damaj, UNICEF Country Representative in Moldova
18 November 2022
16 Days Campaign

Without any doubt, the relationship between gender and violence is complex, weaving in intangible element of culture, social norms, stereotypes and stigma. It should, therefore, not surprise us that gender-based violence is the least visible human rights violation even though it is the most pervasive violation in the world.  

Worldwide, over one billion females aged 15 and older – that’s at least one in three females in that age group – have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, simply because they are a woman or a girl.  

In Moldova this figure is sadly even higher.  According to a study conducted in 2018, 40% of women in Moldova have been subjects of physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. And an alarming 10% of children were subjected to sexual violence, with three times more girls than boys falling victims to sexual abuse.  

This data would be higher if it included the full continuum of violence such as sexual harassment or violence in digital contexts. Even worse, we know the issue remains largely unreported due to the impunity, silence, stigma and shame surrounding it. 

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, emerging data and reports have shown that all types of violence against women and girls have intensified and the current context of violent conflicts, such as the situation in Ukraine, with its humanitarian implications, have further exacerbated violence against women, ringing alarms on the need to urgently act. 

As people tried to make sense of their rapidly changing realities from inside homes and behind screens, emerging studies showed that, in some countries, media coverage of COVID-19-related deaths was also accompanied by increased news coverage of the ‘shadow pandemic’ of domestic and gender-based violence, which has disproportionately had a negative impact on women and girls. As practitioners in protection, we anticipated the risks of such a shadow pandemic, but it was the media that shone a public light on it, playing a critical role in raising awareness.  

It is important to mention that the world we are living in is very different from what it was 10 or 20 years ago. And with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, online news and social media have become central routes of information, perhaps more so than ever before.  

Journalism is an essential lever in the fight against gender-based violence. The recognized influence of the media over how we interpret and respond to events means that while it is important that violence is reported on, how it is reported becomes critical. 

UNICEF Moldova is proud to collaborate with and support the strengthening of local media capacities to raise awareness and report ethically on violence against women and girls. Last year, for example, as part of the EVA Project, funded by EU and implemented by UN Women in partnership with UNICEF, the Association for Independent Press launched a guide for media professionals and journalism students on "Media coverage of gender-based violence and violence against children".  

More than 100 journalists from national and regional media outlets were trained to apply it. The guide focused on the ethical collection and processing of information about gender-based violence, also looking at various case studies when deontological norms were not observed. Today, we know media understands the phenomenon of violence better and are ethically and responsibly reporting on it, and we thank you for that.  

Today, when technology gives unprecedented access to information, media has even more power, which comes with greater responsibility. Media narratives and how they are shaped would ultimately determine how the social and gender norms are shaped. Additionally, framing of the responsibility of each and every one to fight gender stereotypes will help promote positive social and gender norms, that will protect thousands of women and girls in Moldova from becoming victims of gender-based violence.  

It might seem like a very ambitious task. But that is usually when I am reminded of Nelson Mandela’s famous quote: “It always seems impossible, until it is done”. 


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