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Where Are the Women?

09/04/2017 - 13h07



A group of young people from a school in Osasco had looked over some editions of Folha. With the kind of fresh point of view provided by youth, they weren't limited only by what the pages of the newspaper themselves showed. They were looking for things that by their very absence revealed concrete facts that weren't present in the news itself.

"Where are the women?", the young people asked me on Friday (the 1st) when I sat down in front of dozens of students of Ateneu Rá Tim Bum to talk about Folha and my work as Ombudsman.

They reminded me that women make up 51% of the population of the country. And they asked why, as they paged through the newspaper, they practically didn't see women or black people. The news stories were nearly always about white men.

At the beginning of this week, I received an e-mail from writer Beatriz Bracher, reflecting on an edition of Folha.

"The top part of the front page of Folha [August 20th] had two articles: one dealing with the way that the economic crisis is affecting peoples' lives, and the other about an increase in the number of gang rapes in the country. Among the photos of the people interviewed regarding the economic crisis, there was only one of a woman [there were six photos]. For me the relationship between the two topics was crystal clear, or in other words, the way that the most important source of printed communication in Brazil undervalues women as economic actors says a lot about the devalued way in general that women are seen and therefore, they can be attacked without greater condemnation, even moral," wrote the writer.

The theme of this column was motivated by the news that a judge released a man who had been arrested after ejaculating on a woman in a bus.

Data provided by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) show that women today make up 43.8% of the entire workforce and are responsible for 40.5% of Brazilian households. Women complain that their real economic, political and social role isn't reflected in newspapers.

Are women not given recognition simply because society is chauvinistic or are newspapers complicit and co-responsible for the persistence of chauvinism in society? What is the role of the newspaper in questioning the social recognition of women and in confronting discrimination?

In an internal evaluation, I pointed out that Folha's more recent efforts to deal with feminist themes have been laudable. In recent days, it has published unprecedented reporting about violence against women: one story revealed that Brazil registers ten gang rapes per day; another showed that São Paulo has, on average, one femicide every four days.

Folha frequently deals with economic issues as they relate to gender. The newspaper testifies that even with the same level of education, women make less money than men. It published a study showing that the abyss separating men's and women's salaries doubles in the first 15 years of their respective careers.

The newspaper created a space for engaged feminist initiatives with the #AgoraÉQueSãoElas blog.

A greater representation of feminist themes doesn't, however, eliminate the invisible threads that feed and sustain the chauvinistic culture of society reflected in the newspaper.

Regarding diversity, the newspaper should go beyond the way the theme is dealt with specifically in its articles. It needs to adopt mechanisms for detecting and controlling its own practices that overlap the diversity that it defends in its news pages. To restrict myself to the issue of gender, the newspaper plays a decisive role in opening up space for the voice of women. Not only through the contracting of reporters, editors and columnists for its staff, but especially by reviewing embedded practices.

We have to reflect every single day on whether our agenda or coverage is reinforcing fundamentally chauvinistic practices. How many women are featured as specialists in economics, politics or sports? But the newspaper should hear from the best, independent of their gender, right? Is that what it does? Or is the predominately masculine presence the result of an autopilot that reproduces chauvinistic realities.

It must be stated here that this discussion can never lead to a decision for a type of "quota system" for choosing people to be reported on or selecting which specialists to hear from. But we must make an effort to change behavior.

As Beatriz Bracher said, "more important than the 'feminist' material, news about women, reinforcing their empowerment [this is all great], is for each journalist to pay attention to what they are writing, how they are writing it and the context, whatever the subject may be."

So, what do women want? The Freudian question has an obvious answer: they want recognition! Indeed, as protagonists.

Translated by LLOYD HARDER

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