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MEDIA: Workshop Eyes Millennium Goals Through Gender Lens

Patricia Grogg

PANAMA CITY, Jul 31 2006 (IPS) - Journalists participating in a recent workshop found themselves scrambling when asked to define the words sex and gender – despite having frequently used the terms in their articles.

“I’ve asked groups to do this before – there are always a few men who try to leave the room. Close the doors behind you, please,” quipped journalist Laurent Duvillier, communications assistant with the United Nations International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW).

Close to 20 reporters from Central America, Cuba and the Dominican Republic attended the Jul. 26-27 workshop in the Panamanian capital to raise journalist and media awareness of the importance of reporting on development challenges. The event was the second of five planned by the IPS (Inter Press Service) international news agency, with the support of the U.N. Development Programme. The first was held in Bogotá in June.

The tone was set early. In the session “Environment, Biodiversity and Development are News: Why and How to Report on the Millennium Development Goals,” Duvillier brought up a weakpoint of the commitments established by the international community in 2000.

“Gender is an issue involving both sexes, and has to do with the relationships between them,” he explained. However, he noted, except for goal number three, the MDGs include “very few explicit references to gender issues.”

Six years ago, the 189 heads of State in the U.N. General Assembly drew up the eight MDGs. In the third, countries pledge to promote gender equality and empower women.

The complete list sets out targets to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and establish a global partnership for development.

Of the 1.3 billion people who live in poverty around the world, 70 percent are female. Women and girls also represent 75 percent of the population who cannot read or write, while women receive a mere 10 percent of the national income on average, despite working two-thirds of the total labour hours and producing half the food.

Duvillier said a gender-focused analysis reveals that in terms of legal, social and economic rights, no region can claim equality between men and women. Additionally, “gender equality cannot be compartmentalised in one Millennium Goal – it is relevant to all of them.”

But while women account for 52 percent of the world’s population, the media has traditionally shown little interest in the inequalities reflected by the statistics. According to a 2005 study, only four percent of news focuses on gender-equality issues.

The study of 13,000 news items, conducted by the Global Media Monitoring Project of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), also discovered that just 21 percent of news coverage focused on women’s issues.

At the 2005 World Summit, a U.N. meeting held last September in New York to follow up on progress towards the MDGs, it was clear that countries are still a long way from meeting the targets established for 2015.

Fulfilling the commitments requires both international cooperation, particularly in countries with the fewest resources, as well as the committed efforts of each government.

In 1970, industrialised countries committed themselves to allocate 0.7 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) to development aid. “We’re still waiting for them to come through,” said Diana Cariboni, IPS regional editor for Latin America.

“Governments must establish policies and agreements if they want to make progress on meeting the targets,” the UNDP’s representative in Panama, Roberto Gálvez, told IPS.

Duvillier noted that the MDGs are not a “panacea,” and that governments may not honour their promises.

Nevertheless, “it is the first time such high-level, global policy has been formed within a development framework with such specific targets, commitments and timeframes. We pinned down a date, and that in itself is good,” he pointed out.

“We will be integrating the MDGs into the paper’s daily reporting,” the director of the Honduran on-line newspaper, Thelma Mejía, told IPS. The daily is read particularly by decision-makers in the national government and in the spheres of development aid and finance in Honduras.

“Our stories are often picked up by the mass media. We are not going to change what is going on, but we can make some kind of difference,” added Mejías.

Alberto Mendoza, a Spanish journalist with El Salvador’s Diario de Hoy, believes the key lies in presenting human interest stories and new angles, rather than speaking of the MDGs in abstract.

“I was interested in the workshop’s presentation of the relationship between poverty and biodiversity. To improve quality of life, we need to improve the environment. In Central America, poverty is destroying the environment. As people are scratching out an existence, they are also destroying their environment,” he said.

World Conservation Union (UICN) reports show that population growth rates are higher in critical biodiversity areas (1.8 percent) than in the world in general (1.3 percent), due to high fertility rates and human migration.

In the northern Guatemalan department (province) of Petén, an estimated four to six hectares of forest is lost per each additional person.

The problem is that most rural households in developing countries depend on wood for fuel.

The consumption of firewood has become a major cause of erosion and deforestation, warn studies published by the UICN, an international alliance of organisations and individuals who work to ensure equitable and sustainable natural resource use.

The journalism workshop included a day of conferences and a tour of Panama City’s Casco Antiguo (Old Quarters) neighbourhoods, where projects to renovate and restore housing are under way.

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