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'Ten Commandments' of Non-Sexist Language for Reporting on Violence Against Women

BUENOS AIRES -- An organization of over 100 journalists in Argentina has drawn up ten "commandments" for news coverage of gender-based crimes, which include avoiding expressions like "crime of passion" and incorporating terms like "femicide."

The document, by the Argentine Network of Journalists for Non-Sexist Communication (PAR), has already been debated in forums and delivered to social and cultural associations and editorial offices. It will be publicly launched on Nov. 25, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Its aim is to combat "invisible discrimination, which is often unintentional, but occurs because it has become natural in daily life," Liliana Hendel, a psychologist and journalist for the subscription television news channel Todo Noticias, and one of the authors of the ten commandments, or decalogue, told IPS.

"We will uproot from our work the term 'crime of passion' to refer to murders of women who are victims of gender violence. Crimes of passion do not exist," says item three of the document, for example.

According to Hendel, "to call a murder a crime of passion is to presuppose that it is a consequence of love, because 'he loved her too much,' which distances it from the concept of crime."

She added that the idea of "love-sickness" hides the reality of a criminal who abuses power, to the extent that he owns a woman's life and can kill her." Statistics quoted by PAR indicate that in 99 percent of murders committed by spouses, lovers or partners, women are the victims.

The Network proposes terms like "femicide" (murders of women) or "feminicide" (crimes of humanity against women just because they are women). Other phrases recommended by feminist movements are "violence against women," "gender-based violence" and "sexist violence."

Consultation of female sources is stressed as a key to avoiding gender discrimination.

"Whether or not we are writing about gender issues, it is important to consult women lawyers, historians and women's groups about their views on events, which will inexorably help us to see what we cannot see because it seems so natural," Hendel said.

Among other evidence for sexism in news coverage, PAR mentions "detailed descriptions of what a woman was wearing or, in the case of murders committed by women, emphatic indignation because they go against 'maternal instinct,' which is a way of sacralising motherhood."

"There is an exaggeration of the association between motherhood and womanhood, and an underlying need for women to be good," the journalist said.

The decalogue was given a good reception in the different circles where it was presented, according to PAR. "Generally, it has been very well received. When one is not confrontational and does not play the role of victim, but describes facts and historical trends, the audience is receptive," said Hendel.

PAR was founded in 2006. It arose from the Artemisa portal, which provides news with a gender perspective, along the lines of the Mexican website for Women's Communication and Information (CIMAC).

The Network's annual meeting this year was held in the northwestern province of Salta, in June. The next meeting will be in the central province of La Pampa, in September 2009.

"We are militant feminist women and men -- an important point -- who believe that a truly equitable society must be built by all of us, women and men together," Hendel said. "No one would try to tell you that to be a humanist, you must be a man or a woman. Defending the rights of humanity does not imply gender exclusion."

The journalist recognized that introducing non-sexist language in certain areas is not easy. "In the world of graphic design it is much more difficult, and will be a long process."

However, Hendel is optimistic. "The Internet has enormous multiplying power. Even though the web does not reach everyone yet, it will make this part of the journey go much faster than the progress we have seen in the past 30 or 40 years."

THE DECALOGUE

1. The following terms are correct usage: violence against women, gender-based violence and sexist violence.

2. Gender-based violence is a crime insofar as it is illegal behavior that must be prevented and punished, a social problem, an assault on the right to life, dignity, and physical and psychological integrity of women, and an issue that concerns the defense of human rights.

3. We will uproot from our work the term "crime of passion" to refer to murders of women who are victims of gender violence. Crimes of passion do not exist.

4. It is of the utmost importance to protect the identity of the victim, rather than that of the aggressor. Make it clear who is the aggressor and who is the victim, and indicate what attitudes and situations may put women in violent relationships at risk, to help raise their awareness about their situation.

5. Some information can harm the victims and their families. It is not always a good idea to identify the victim. It is offensive to refer to victims by diminutives, short forms of proper names, nicknames, and so on.

6. We will never look for justifications or "motives" (alcohol, drugs, arguments, jealousy, a couple's separation, infidelity, and so on) that only distract attention from the central issue: violence. The cause of gender-based violence is the control and domination that certain men exercise over women.

7. It is essential to check the facts, especially from official sources.

8. Keep the subject on the agenda by denouncing violence in all its forms: psychological, economic, and emotional, without waiting for women to be killed. Tell the story taking into account the uniqueness of each event, but also the elements that each has in common with other cases. This will help us avoid the use of expressions like "once again" or "yet another case of," and prevent a dulling of sensitivities.

9. Be particularly careful with the photographs and images illustrating the article. Respect the victims and their families, and avoid sexism, sensationalism and obscenity. Never steal images or audio material from a victim. When using a musical background, do not select motifs that inspire terror, or lyrics that talk about "love-sickness" or jealousy.

10. Our articles will always include a free telephone helpline number for victims, and any other information that may be useful for them.

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