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Journalists and NGO leaders work together to fight gender violence in South Asia

Just opposite the palm-lined promenade defining the reach of the Indian Ocean, journalists and NGO activists from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka gathered in Colombo to discuss how the power of the media can help to eradicate human trafficking and violence against women and children in the region. For five days, IREX experts in journalism and advocacy facilitated a candid and lively exchange between two dozen dedicated journalists and NGO leaders from South Asia.

Their aims: increase mutual understanding and build ongoing collaboration to solve urgent regional issues.

Their relationship is symbiotic. Experienced NGO organizations possess the statistics, facts, and stories that can produce newsworthy and poignant human profiles, mapping for journalists a dark and systemic landscape of kidnapping and trafficking of women for sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. Through the media, the trauma and plight of child jockeys in the dangerous sport of camel racing, and individual histories about women being permanently disfigured with acid or slashed with a cinnamon knife can be brought to the public’s and governments’ attention through professional reporting. The journalists and NGO participants can survey the root causes of such atrocities. Working together through their unique roles, they can shine light upon and advocate for needed social, political, and legal reform.

At the workshop, entitled “Working with Media to Advocate for Change”, IREX rolled out a new training manual on advocacy and social journalism, featuring interactive exercises, role plays, and best practices. In mock exercises, journalists offered constructive reviews of NGO press releases and press conferences while NGO activists countered with recommendations to improve journalists’ sensitivity during interviews with victims.

As the week progressed, NGO and media participants paired up to visit local NGOs engaged in victim assistance, police intake units for victims of violence, and human rights organizations active in advocacy efforts. Each pair brought their insights from the learning experience back to the plenary group. The workshop culminated with a promise to complete a body of news articles and stories directly related to and resulting from the topics and issues vetted during the workshop. Within two weeks, a virtual network was created and more than a dozen published stories were shared from Islamabad to Katmandu to Dhaka.

Hosted by the USAID-funded South Asia Regional Initiative (SARI) Equity Support Program of the Academy for Educational Development (AED), this workshop brought IREX’s extensive experience in journalism and advocacy to address human trafficking and gender violence in South Asia. “I am so pleased about how the workshop helped me to be more specific and concrete on stories,” said Sazzad Hussain from Bangladeshi NGO Odhikar. “No doubt the traumatized and marginalized people will benefit by our collective effort and action in raising our voices against all sorts of violations and injustices in the region.”

To read the articles written by the participants, please visit: www.sariq.org/news.asp.