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HAVANA, Jun 11 2012 (IPS) - The influence of journalists and film directors who are sensitive to the issue of gender equality is becoming visible in the Cuban media, where intellectuals and activists are demanding more action to break with sexism.
“Some progress can be seen,” journalist Dainerys Machado told IPS, saying she saw the most positive signs in alternative and online publications and in “fictional” programmes produced on the island. In the press, she said, “major changes have been seen only in certain media outlets.”
For example, the soap opera “Bajo el mismo sol” (“Under the same sun”), which recently ended after three seasons, addressed the theme of sexist violence against women. Its main characters were female ex-convicts who were trying to re-join society, and the series included different viewpoints about machismo and sexism, which sparked lively debate among viewers at home.
“While there have been omissions, the thematic shift in fictional audiovisual programmes in recent years has contributed to making diversity more visible, much more so than in the case of news programmes or newspapers,” said Machado, who works for the Cuban magazine Bohemia.
Cuba’s government-controlled media comprises 97 radio stations, 20 newspapers, two news agencies, magazines, websites, a national television network and 31 local television stations. The majority of professionals who work at these media still do not understand “the need to modify sexist language and other forms of exclusion,” Machado said.
However, these concerns were on the political agenda in late 2011, when the Cuban parliament discussed the way women are shown in music videos. They were also included in the policy document of the First National Conference of the Communist Party of Cuba, the only legal political party.
The party meeting, held in January 2012, set goals that included “reflecting, through the audiovisual media and the print and online press, Cuba’s reality in all of its diversity, including aspects of the economic, labour and social situations, and gender, skin colour, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and geographic origins.”
Since the 1960s, the issues of discrimination against women and the promotion of gender equality have been gradually taken up by academia, and are studied in field like journalism and communication. However, little research has been carried out on them, and few courses have adopted a gender perspective.
Since that time, media workers have embraced these issues, and now, years later, they have also started to adopt inclusive language, to make a shift from traditional sexist reporting and messages, that persist despite the efforts of the government and civil society.
On television, for example, programmes focusing on sexuality, women’s rights and responsible fatherhood are frequently broadcast.
However, Professor Gustavo Arcos said that communicators “need to open up to new currents of ideas, become more integrated into the world and shed the sexual, moral and cultural backwardness that has accompanied them for decades.”
Arcos, who is also an art critic, told IPS that “it has never been an easy task to introduce this new way of looking at things, because it generally breaks with routine, stirs up awareness and is uncomfortable for anybody, men or women, who use the media as an extension of their political or personal discourse.”
Iberian-American Women and Communication Conference has been meeting in Havana since 1992 to promote the inclusion of issues involving women and sexual diversity. The tenth edition was held May 23-25, with participants including journalists and media executives.
Sponsored by three nongovernmental groups — the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC), Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) and Cuban Association of Social Communicators (ACCS) — the conference discussed issues such as how the Cuban media addresses questions like gender-based violence, sexual orientation and women’s traditional roles in the private sphere.
Thanks to the work accomplished by initiatives like this conference, critical media products are appearing, along with areas hidden by so-called androcentrism. According to Lirians Gordillo, “the current situation is a complex one, because non-sexist programmes and products are beginning to appear and to coexist with an immense amount of sexist messages.”
Gordillo, one of the organisers of “Mirar desde la sospecha” (roughly “With a Sceptical View”) a monthly debate on gender and culture, told IPS that a “lack of guidance” and “an absence of discussion within the media on these issues” are two negative factors.
“Mirar desde la sospecha” is promoted by the Gender and Culture Programme of the Oscar Arnulfo Romero Centre for Reflection and Debate, a Christian organisation, and the nongovernmental Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba.
The monthly debate addresses ideas about the need for developing strategies for equality among men and women, especially in the sphere of culture.
The debate is one of a number of Cuban projects that aim to foment a gender perspective in the media. Others include the Iberian-American Masculinity Network, Todas Contracorriente and the “I Say No to Violence against Women” campaign.
According to experts, the news policies and social mission of the media need to be revised, other perspectives should be included in academic training, inclusive public policies need to be implemented and studies about different publics should be encouraged.
“There are increasingly more women in the mass media — and also some men — who have been approaching the issue based on their individual interests,” said Isabel Moya, one of Cuba’s leading experts on gender and communication.
Moya, who is the coordinator of a training course on gender for media professionals from Cuba and other countries, said that “male and female communicators cannot be trained today if we don’t start with a process of raising awareness about gender.” That “is our main objective and our main challenge,” she told IPS.
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