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Loretta Handrabura: “The Observance of Gender Balance Regarding Sources, Protagonists and Topics Addressed Is Not Just Preferable but Compulsory for Journalists”

27 January 2020
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Media Azi: Mrs. Handrabura, as a specialist in the field of gender equality, you collaborate quite intensely with journalists and media NGOs. In your opinion, how “balanced” is the media in our country within the guild? 
 
Loretta Handrabura: Generally, media outlets lack balance as regards the share of men and women who develop media products. Although journalism, like other fields, is feminized, media management with a few exceptions is mainly represented by men though reporters who work in the field are mainly women. However, editorial policies, regardless of who makes the decisions and who is the owner, must ensure gender balance because equal treatment of women and men is a fundamental defining right. This right underpins the modern democratic society and is indispensable for its development.

Certainly, women journalists have sufficient knowledge to work as top media managers, manage an institution and take responsibilities. I think of Alina Radu, Director of Ziarul de Garda, one of the most-read periodicals in the Republic of Moldova. According to various recent studies, the problem lies in the difficulties in finding a balance between the time for work and the time for family. Women continue to spend more time on household chores and to take care of children and sick relatives at the expense of professional growth.
 
M. A.: Besides the fact that there is an imbalance in the editorial offices, we note certain deficiencies in the content of journalistic materials, especially when it comes to sources. Speaking about this, the example of Male Experts vs Female Experts comes to mind. We can see with some exceptions that when it comes to topics related to internal or external politics, the economy, finances, and the so-called ‘tough areas’, male experts are involved. When it comes to health, especially child health, education, etc., female experts are interviewed most of the time. Why do you think this is happening and what do we have to do to balance gender representation in media content?
 
L. H.: The argument that there are few female experts who can express their opinions or explain certain things to the general public on political, economic, and financial topics is false. Annually, there are more female graduates with Bachelor, Masters and PhD degrees. They are potential experts whose expertise, experience, and knowledge really matter and can be harnessed. We just need to identify them, include them in a database and put them on the map.

There is no reason to avoid taking into account the opinions of women even if the events are organized by men and the audience is primarily male. A male journalist and a female journalist can cover this event for both men and women who live in our country. In this case, it is very relevant to find out the opinion of women, because any public event has an impact on men and on women as well. Thus, the observance of gender balance regarding sources, protagonists and topics addressed is not just preferable but compulsory for journalists. 
 
M. A.: To make this clear for everyone: Is the use of feminine forms in media a whim or a “cool trend”? Can we say this is one of the means that help the media to ensure gender balance in society?  
 
L. H. The use of gender-balanced language and the use of feminine forms for positions, professions and occupations is by no means a whim and nothing fancy. It is proof of equal treatment from the point of view of language. Language that makes women invisible is the mark of a society in which they have a secondary role as language is a political issue. I proved this in the study entitled “The Non-Existent Language” published last year which I developed together with linguist Alexandra Gherasim and with the lexicographer Marin Butuc. It is a scientific work and contains practical recommendations based on the Classification of Occupations in our country. The use of the masculine forms as a general norm for the names of professions or functions, when the Romanian language allows and recommends the feminine form through lexicographic sources such as dictionaries, is a form of sexism or gender discrimination through language.  
 
M. A.: I am aware you promote strongly the use of terms in their feminine forms for professions, even by your own example. In 2011, when I was a political reporter and you were working at the Ministry of Education, someone there was making jokes about the fact that the Ministry was led by three women: a minister of education, a deputy-minister and a FEMALE deputy minister, that is, you. After that, at the Ministry of Youth and Sports, you were also a “FEMALE minister.” In this context, when it comes to positions, especially political ones, many colleagues in the media say that they do not use the feminine forms of positions because either they are not correct or because they sound improper, and on the other hand, we don’t have too many women in politics who make their voices heard and who promote gender equality. How do you feel about the interaction of the media and women in politics?
 
L. H.: Ten years ago I started to insist on the use of feminine forms because I knew I was right. The great linguist Mioara Avram, in her work Words of the Romanian Language Between Right and Wrong, also published in 2001, was recommending feminine forms when available, and not the corresponding masculine or the heavy compound forms such as woman lawyer or woman counselor.
 
Over the last five years, the media has been taking note of gender imbalances journalists were using that reinforced gender stereotypes regarding the roles of men and women in public and private life.
 
The analysis of the public discourse from the gender perspective of the candidates in the new Parliamentary Elections in the single-member constituencies No 17, 33, 48, and 50 of 20 October 2019, for example, showed us that all candidates had the opportunity to make themselves known through the debates organized by the audiovisual media. Unfortunately, some independent candidates (Emilia Ristic, Carolina Panico, Lidia Grozav) and Svetlana Popa from the PSRM did not appear in any debates. They, as well as other candidates like Vitalii Evtodiev, PSRM, constituency No 48, Ion Angheluta (independent candidate, constituency No 17), totally ignored the chance to make themselves known through media, to speak about their mandate priorities as women with expertise and to gain the trust of the citizens in the constituencies in which they were candidates.
 
As for the media that covered the elections, only the moderator of debates on TV8 naturally used the feminine forms in relation to the candidates who participated in the electoral debates.
 
M. A.: You said language is a political issue and politics is something that is subject to the regulations. Are there any norms and standards for ensuring gender equality through language, for example in European countries, that would be examples of good practices?
 
L. H.: Of course. You should know that there are regulations at the European level in this regard. In 2007, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe made a recommendation for member states, including for the Republic of Moldova, as regards the standards and the mechanisms for ensuring gender equality. When we speak about eliminating sexism, we explicitly mention the non-admission of sexist language, through which the principle of gender equality is violated.
 
Also, in March this year, the Committee of Ministers made another recommendation for member states and for the Republic of Moldova too. The recommendation is about preventing and fighting sexism. According to this recommendation, language and communications “must not enshrine the hegemony of the male model” and calls for the use of non-stereotypical communication to educate, raise awareness and prevent sexual discrimination. For example, it recommends ending the use of sexist expressions and using gender-sensitive language. 

Read the full interview here.
 

For Mass Media in Moldova magazine: Irina GOTISAN