By Joyce Mukucha
In the quest for disability awareness among media professionals and to increase disability representation in the media, Deaf Women Included (DWI) hosted a media workshop where they screened a documentary on violence against women with disabilities which explores experiences and challenges they encounter in their day to day lives.
The event was aimed at promoting reporting which fosters recognition and respect for the human rights of women and girls with disabilities and makes their contributions and concerns more visible in the media and society.
In her opening remarks during the workshop held in Harare on the 10th of June 2021, DWI Director Agness Chindimba said members of the fourth estate play a crucial role in dismantling inequalities and disseminating relevant information to do with issues to curb disability issues and gender-based violence (GBV).
She said mass media reaches a broad spectrum of the population hence the importance for them to use terminology which is more positive in articles dealing with PWDs.
The media is the number one culprit for using terminology that perpetuates stereotypes and creates social barriers that prevent disabled people from being recognised in socio-economic and developmental national programmes.
DWI has seen it important to engage the media to try and educate them on disability terminology so that they do not use derogatory language in a manner that causes harm to PWDs, especially the victims and survivors of GBV.
“The terminology used by the media to refer to PWDs may both reflect and influence attitudes towards them and at the same time perpetuating negative attitudes and stereotypes. Words such as “handicapped”, “disabled”, “mute” and “dear among other terms are not acceptable for they depict PWDs as people who are not capable of doing anything.
“So it is the role of the media to let the society know that they are also people who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. It is the role of you as journalists to demystify the negative perceptions towards PWDs, particularly women and girls who have experienced GBV. We urge you to use words that do not offend people and that puts the person rather than the disability first,” said Chindimba.
In an interview, DWI Programs Manager Onai Hara explained that the workshop was aimed at sensitizing media practitioners on victim-friendly reporting as well as helping the public to have positive perceptions of PWDs.
She also reiterated that media has a big role to play in educating the community to break down stigma and social restrictions.
“Today we were having a workshop with media practitioners because we have realised that media actually plays a significant role in building awareness in terms of disseminating information in our communities.
“So we thought we could gather with media practitioners and discuss reporting in a way which is disability-inclusive, a way which is empowering especially when we are relating to issues to do with GBV which are happening in our communities. There is a need to report about some of the structural barriers PWDs face especially within the response mechanisms of GBV. For example, when they are going to report their cases and when they need psycho-social support.
“So we were trying to raise awareness on the experiences of women and girls with disabilities by sharing with journalists a documentary and research that we conducted as Dear Women Included,” Hara said.
The Founder and Executive Director of Signs of Hope Trust who is also working tirelessly with DWI, Samantha Sibanda issued a call to action where she challenged the media to be the champions for PWDs. She indicated that the power of change lies in the pen to influence the way society thinks, acts and interacts with PWDs.
Giving the journalists key pointers on guidelines for reporting Sexual Gender Based Violence in Zimbabwe, Sibanda stressed that journalists ought to abide by ethical principles when reporting about this issue.
She emphasised that accuracy, fairness, consent, and protection of victims and survivors’ sources are of paramount importance when reporting issues to do with women and girls with disabilities who have experienced GBV.
The Principal Information Officer in the Ministry of Information, Publicity and Broadcasting Services, Lenex Mandipaza highlighted that journalists as professional communicators are in a unique position to shape the public image of persons with disabilities. The words and images they use can create balanced views or insensitive portrayal that reinforces common myths and promote discrimination.
He said the media should report disability and GBV issues in a way that can also cause policymakers to come up with mechanisms that effectively include and help PWDs at every level.
“People with disabilities encounter many challenges. For example, they find it difficult to access services, be it in school, hospital, and police station among other institutions. It is the role of the media to come up with flexible solutions for PWDs through their writing. I encourage media practitioners not only to focus on reporting the violation part of the victim but also to figure out how the survivors and victims are being handled.
“The media should find out if the environment is safe for PWDs who have experienced sexual gender-based violence. They should investigate if they are receiving psycho-social support and the effective counselling they require. Instead of using a one-size-fits-all and generic approach, I encourage you to come up with stories that sensitize communities on how to treat PWDs with respect,” he said.
The workshop brought together journalists from different media houses and provided them an opportunity to share professional experiences, promote cooperation and support balanced reporting on people with disabilities.
Participating journalists from several media organisations – print, broadcast, and online turned out to participate and gained insights into the concerns of people with disabilities. They received statistical data, information on the challenges faced by women and girls with disabilities.
Tanyaradzwa Kutaura a reporter with Star FM, highlighted the need for journalists to learn how to create disability programs that resonate with their audiences and encourage wider PWDs participation at every level of the society despite the barriers they must deal with.
Kutaura said the workshop was helpful as he highlighted that it was imperative for disability-oriented organisations to continue having such workshops that equip journalists with skills and knowledge to promote fact-based, objective, and impactful reporting on the PWDs.
“During this workshop, I have learned that as journalists and professional communicators, we are in a unique position to shape the public image of persons with disabilities. The words and images we use can create balanced views or insensitive portrayals that reinforce common myths and promote discrimination.”
DWI indicated that they would look into continuing ventures such as the workshop for media. Journalists also voiced their willingness for the continued partnership.