Journalism and gender equality

11. How should journalists report violence against women? Or gender-based violence? /

The fight against violence against women also involves the media. Relevant, fair and accurate journalistic treatment makes it possible to assess the extent of this social phenomenon, change the public’s perception to prevent trivialisation, and ensure such violence does not go unpunished.


The United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether in public or private life.” According to global estimates by the WHO, 35% of women, nearly 1 in 3, report having been exposed to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or someone else in their lifetime.

WHO findings

“Most often, this violence is committed by the intimate partner. Globally, almost a third (30%) of women who have been in relationships report having experienced some form of physical and/or sexual violence from their intimate partner during their lifetime.

Worldwide, as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by their intimate male partners.

Such violence leads to physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health problems among women victims and can increase their vulnerability to HIV.

For perpetrators of violence, the risk factors include: a low level of education, a history of childhood abuse or exposure to violence against their mother, the harmful use of alcohol, acceptance of violence and gender inequality, and the belief they have rights over women.

The risk factors for victims of violence include: a low level of education, exposure to inter-parental violence, childhood abuse and acceptance of violence, male prerogatives, and the subordinate status of the woman.

Awareness-raising and empowerment counselling interventions, as well as home visits, appear to hold promise for preventing or reducing intimate partner violence against women.

Conflict, post-conflict and displacement situations can exacerbate existing violence, including violence by an intimate partner or someone else, and result in multiple forms of violence against women“.

10 major forms of violence identified

They have been accepted by various media and specialised institutions such as the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma, the International Federation of Journalists, the Ethical Journalism Network and the Association des Journalistes Professionnels (AJP).

These include Internet harassment, sexual assault, intimate partner and marital killings or forced marriages, so-called “honour” crimes, violence against women in conflict, female genital mutilation, gender-specific foeticide and infanticide, and human trafficking.

Gender-based violence concepts

A wide range of abuses grouped into four forms including: sexual violence, physical violence, emotional or psychological violence, and socio-economic violence.

  1. Sexual violence: Sexual violence is any act, attempt, comment or advance of a sexual nature directed towards a person’s sex using coercion. Sexual violence can include: Rape: The act of penetrating anal, vaginal or oral orifices of another person with objects or sex without theirü consent. Attempted rape: any attempt to rape a person that does not result in penetration.ü Marital rape: forced sexual intercourse by a wife or intimate partner.ü Incest: sexual relations between a man and a woman related by a degree of kinship that results in theü prohibition of marriage. Sexual harassment: unwelcome, repeated and unreciprocated sexual advances; unsolicitedü sexual attention. Exhibition of pornographic material. Paedophilia: sexual relations between adults and young children.ü Forced sodomy (anal rape): anal relations imposed by force or coercion, from a man to a man or from a man to aü woman.  Touching: an act by a person giving or seekingü age-inappropriate sexual stimulation, thereby damaging his or her physical or psychological integrity.  Sexual exploitation: coercion or sexual manipulation by a person in aü position of power who uses that power to engage in sexual acts with a person who does not have power. Forced prostitution: causing a person to commit acts of a sexual nature without his or herü consent for financial or other gain. Female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C): any procedure involving the partial orü total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for reasons other than medical.
  2. Emotional and psychological violence: this form of violence manifests itself through humiliation, verbal and emotional abuse, slurs, slander, criticism, insults, distrust, booing, minimising, neglecting, mocking, scorn.
  3. Socio-economic violence: a man preventing his wife from working, refusing to hire the woman because of her sex, confiscating his wife’s salary, denying inheritance to the woman, denying property to his wife, denial of resources.
  4. Physical violence: the intentional use of physical force to harm or injure a woman. Such as: beating, hitting, slapping, torturing, killing, wounding, forced labour, cutting, boxing, burning, punching, trampling, hitting, crushing, dragging, strangling, tying, hanging. Types listed in the Gender-Based Violence Information Management System (GBVIMS). The categories used to classify gender-based violence can also change from one organisation or context to another. The following definitions have been the work matter of several international organisations and agencies (including UNHCR, UNICEF, UNFPA, IRC), and represent a way of harmonising understanding.
  5. Rape: Vaginal, anal or oral penetration without consent (even superficial) using the penis or any other part of the body. It also applies to the insertion of an object into the vagina or anus.
  6. Sexual assault:Any form of non-consensual sexual contact that does not result in, or is not based on, an act of penetration. Examples include attempted rape, as well as kissing, fondling and unwanted touching of genitals or buttocks, any violence/sexual abuse without penetration, and female genital mutilation/cutting. This type of incident does not include rape (which is an act of penetration).
  7. Physical aggression: including hitting, slapping, kicking, pushing, etc. not of a sexual nature.
  8. Forced marriage: Young girls and boys obliged to marry a particular man or woman according to the choice of their parents or customary chief, and sometimes even the religious chief, for customary, material or ambitious reasons.
  9. Opportunity resource denial: The refusal to provide a service, resource or opportunity to which a person should have access. For example, a teacher who refuses to allow a student to move up a class because she refuses to have sex with him, a father who sends his son to school but not his daughter, or a woman who cannot inherit land.
  10. Emotional abuse: is any non-sexual abuse that is degrading and humiliating and causes emotional harm. Examples include verbal insults, name-calling, manipulation, humiliating treatment, or confinement.
  11. Rape is the act of penetration of an object or sex through the anal, vaginal or oral orifice of another person without their consent.

We have been inspired by the good practices and charters published by these institutions and we are going to provide you with some ideas on how to cover this violence against women better.

Here are some key tips for dealing with these topics in a meaningful way


Treat issues of violence against women as a serious problem in our society and not as “news stories”

  • Mention the figures and statistics available – Give the floor to experts on the subject
  • Mention the legal provisions with regard to victims of violence, in particular certain articles of the penal code referring to them 
  • Identify actors by their gender and name macho violence for what it is

Make sure you choose the right words

The vocabulary used is not neutral. It can hurt victims/survivors but also minimise or truncate reality. You must therefore choose your words carefully. We don’t kill for love, but out of jealousy or the desire to dominate. To speak of “heartbreak” when there has been a marital murder is adorning the reality with a veil of romance and induces a feeling of understanding towards the perpetrator of the crime. The expression “crime of passion” should be banned and replaced by “crime of possession” or “murder by intimate partner”.

Securing Victims, Survivors and Witnesses

When filming or photographing a victim of violence, the most important rule is not to put their life or future in danger. Her informed consent must be obtained and it must be clarified whether she agrees to be recognised on screen. Otherwise, you must blur your image very carefully and take care that no detail allows you to identify them.

Think about the relevance of elements of detail

You should avoid details relating to the victim’s clothing, physique or lifestyle suggest that she may be responsible for her aggression. Even if it is information provided by the police, or an examining magistrate to help understand the case, it does not have the same meaning in the hands of a journalist. Attention needs to be paid to this. Use inverted commas or refrain from diffusing it.

Victims are not passive people

It is useful to recount what victims have put in place to defend themselves and try to escape their aggressor, not just to present them as passive victims.

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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