Girl power: Latin Amer­i­can journos take on machismo

Kuwait Times - - Analysis -

Trav­el­ling around Latin Amer­ica to show jour­nal­ists how to hone their dig­i­tal skills, Mar­i­ana San­tos quickly re­al­ized more women were fill­ing col­umn inches and pro­duc­ing con­tent, but the re­gion’s news­rooms were still over­whelm­ingly led by men. In a push to give women a better chance to set the agenda, her Chi­cas Poderosas (Pow­er­ful Girls) group is now help­ing Latin Amer­i­can women de­velop their own in­de­pen­dent me­dia com­pa­nies.

“We re­ally need more women who are able to be lead­ers and are not afraid,” said San­tos, for­merly a dig­i­tal de­signer for Bri­tain’s Guardian news­pa­per. “Women do not get given good sto­ries. They are told they got that good story be­cause they went to sleep with a guy,” she said by tele­phone from S„o Paulo in Brazil. The non-profit Chi­cas Poderosas has trained about 5,000 women from Mex­ico to Ar­gentina in in­ter­ac­tive sto­ry­telling, in­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing and lead­er­ship skills, to help bol­ster their po­si­tions in the me­dia where fe­males are starkly ab­sent from se­nior roles.

Now 30 jour­nal­ists, de­sign­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers and de­vel­op­ers on the group’s four-month ac­cel­er­a­tor scheme, New Ven­tures Lab, are work­ing out how to de­velop, run and even­tu­ally mon­e­tise their own me­dia busi­nesses, most with a strong so­cial slant. One pro­ject runs a me­dia web­site for Ecuador’s LGBT com­mu­nity, while an­other is de­vel­op­ing an arts and en­ter­tain­ment site in Brazil’s Belo Hor­i­zonte. A group in Manaus is factcheck­ing news and in­for­ma­tion in the Ama­zon re­gion of Brazil.

“This is very in­no­va­tive - what we’re try­ing to do is cre­ate a dis­rup­tive process to im­prove the me­dia in Latin Amer­ica,” said Lia Valero, who took part in the lab run at Google’s of­fices in S„o Paulo. The Bogota-based El Poder de Ele­gir (Power to Choose) group she is part of has worked with me­dia tech­nol­ogy firm Meedan to de­velop ways to fact-check po­lit­i­cal mes­sages be­ing ex­changed via WhatsApp ahead of Colom­bia’s May elec­tion. The pro­ject wants WhatsApp users to for­ward mes­sages they get with po­lit­i­cal con­tent, which Valero’s team will try to ver­ify using a pool of jour­nal­ists around the coun­try. They plan to re­spond with an im­age in­di­cat­ing whether the in­for­ma­tion is ac­cu­rate or not, and post the re­sults on­line.

Valero hopes the ser­vice will help vot­ers make in­formed de­ci­sions and flag trends other jour­nal­ists could pick up. It could also be de­ployed in up­com­ing elec­tions in Brazil and Mex­ico, she told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. Faced with a male-dom­i­nated me­dia cul­ture, Colom­bian women of­ten strug­gle to climb the ca­reer lad­der, said Valero, not­ing a prom­i­nent jour­nal­ist’s re­cent de­ci­sion to tell how she was raped by a high­pro­file man she did not iden­tify for fear of reprisal.

Change the con­ver­sa­tion Bol­ster­ing women in Latin Amer­ica’s me­dia could help push un­der-re­ported sto­ries to the front page, in­clud­ing the high lev­els of femi­cide and poverty plagu­ing women across the re­gion, said Chi­cas Poderosas’ co-di­rec­tor Vicki Ham­marst­edt. “We be­lieve women hav­ing lead­er­ship po­si­tions will ac­tu­ally change the con­ver­sa­tion, but also pro­vide women with the op­por­tu­nity to have a direct im­pact on that con­ver­sa­tion,” said Ham­marst­edt, who is also di­rec­tor of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Berke­ley Ad­vanced Me­dia In­sti­tute.

Ac­cord­ing to the Global Me­dia Mon­i­tor­ing Pro­ject run by the World As­so­ci­a­tion for Chris­tian Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, 43 per­cent of re­porters and pre­sen­ters in Latin Amer­ica in 2015 were women, up from just 28 per­cent in 2000. But men hold most se­nior posts while their fe­male col­leagues are of­ten marginalised and paid less, and this af­fects how women are por­trayed in the me­dia, said AimÈe Vega Mon­tiel, a re­searcher at the Na­tional Au­ton­o­mous Univer­sity of Mex­ico. In Mex­ico, “the world of the me­dia in terms of struc­ture is a male world”, said Vega, who is also chair of UN­ESCO’s Global Al­liance on Me­dia and Gen­der, not­ing a lack of gen­der par­ity from own­er­ship through to jour­nal­ists.

‘Safe space’

The “Chi­cas” be­hind Peru’s Mal­querida Dice (The Un­beloved Says) web­site aim to bust the no­tion that gen­der-fo­cused writ­ing only tack­les is­sues like violence, to bring an eclec­tic mix of fea­tures, re­views and ad­vice to its 1,000 monthly read­ers. “Our main idea was to cre­ate a safe space for women to write and pub­lish be­cause we feel we are su­per un­der­rep­re­sented,” said Ana MuÒoz PadrÛs, one of Mal­querida’s founders. “Fifty per­cent of the cre­ativ­ity and imag­i­na­tion in the world is lost when women are not writ­ing and if we’re kept out of news­rooms,” she added. Co-founder Lu­cia Chuquil­lan­qui, who grew up in a sprawl­ing, work­ing-class Lima neigh­bor­hood, said Mal­querida wants to get more women with a sim­i­lar back­ground writ­ing for the site. “Where you’re from and what you are adds some­thing to the story,” she said.

“Most of the world has the same ex­pe­ri­ence as I had in San Juan de Luri­g­an­cho... the same sense of violence, poverty, lack of good ed­u­ca­tion - so I think that’s a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive to tell.”

Find­ing ways to help the “Chi­cas” make their ideas fi­nan­cially sus­tain­able is one of the big­gest chal­lenges for the New Ven­tures Lab, which in­tro­duces them to me­dia pro­fes­sion­als and sets them up with lo­cal men­tors. “Most times, women in Latin Amer­ica... are afraid to step for­ward,” said San­tos, who is from Por­tu­gal. “They are al­ways ask­ing for per­mis­sion, al­ways say­ing they are sorry for be­ing suc­cess­ful. The goal here is to spread the feel­ing of yes, we can do things - so let’s plan, let’s strate­gize, let’s ar­tic­u­late and get there,” she added.

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