Listen to our latest podcast, above, where Claire Provost outline's the approach towards investigative journalism at 50.50 and how the team works to promote it through fellowships and training.
Stories covering violence against women often either come as an opinion piece or focus on individual cases. And while they showcase important aspects of the problem, few dive in to investigate the structural social issues.
This is where feminist investigative journalism comes in. At a panel at the International Journalism Festival in Italy in April, journalists and editors working in this space explained why more investigations are needed on women's issues and how best to start approaching these stories.
Claire Provost, the editor of openDemocracy 50.50, a project covering gender equality, sexuality, and social justice, explained it's "not just about what you write, it's how you write it", outlining a collaborative reporting style where emphasis is placed on training, support, and a transparent approach to the editing process.
"I became an investigative journalist because a lot of reporters are motivated by the desire to expose injustice and to challenge power, and it is really surprising that there isn't more serious investigative journalism on structural violence against women," she told Journalism.co.uk after the panel. "These are structural social issues that you don't want to reduce down to just one individual story because that can also make it easier to say well that's just what happened to them, that's just what happened to her, rather than understanding the ways in which the societies that we live in reproduce really damaging power dynamics."
Investigations by 50.50 journalists include a report from inside the World Congress of Families, a summit of anti-abortion and anti-LGBT-equality groups. "We got a very on-the-ground view of how these organisations around the world are increasingly working together internationally, looking strategically at how to use social media to win people over to really extreme anti-abortion positions – how to use television, for example, to promote a very 'traditional idea' of what the family is, a married man and woman and their many, many children to the exclusion of every other kind of family that exists."
As part of the Shine A Light investigative journalism project on openDemocracy, Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi looks at the impact of government policies on ordinary lives, chronicling how austerity measures disproportionately affect women, particularly migrants and those from minority backgrounds. She also looks at how government policies end up preventing women from refugee backgrounds or those with an uncertain migration status or on a spousal visa from leaving abusive relationships and accessing support services. Omonira-Oyekanmi explained on the panel the importance of "being embedded in the community" and working closely with people who are close to the injustice even if they are not professional journalists.
A data-driven approach to reporting such stories can also help. Investigative journalist Crina Boros highlighted how data analysis can help place anecdotes into context and reveal the scale of an issue. Using Freedom of Information, she has covered for example the compensation schemes from the British Ministry of Defense for victims in war-torn Afghanistan, which compensated women significantly less than men for similar injuries.
"Issues like the ones I reported on spring to ink and paper if we can move from an anecdote to finding out how widespread a problem is, how large the scale, how serious, if any changes occurred over a period of time, over the period of a political regime, say," she told attendees.
"Finding datasets, scraping data, knowing whether it is relevant, rich, or consistent; knowing how to analyse it, how to interpret the results, how to report them out using as few numbers as possible is the realm of data-driven investigations. They have the power of showing if a wrongdoing is systemic, whether it is scientifically correlated with another aspect of life or politics, who the outliers are – the winners the losers, the anomalies. These are not picked randomly. Data leads to evidence-based journalism."
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