Mexican university offers training in investigative journalism with a gender perspective

In late June, a feature story by Portal Catarinas and The Intercept Brasil revealed that an 11-year-old girl, pregnant after a rape, was being held in a shelter at the behest of a judge as a measure to prevent her from accessing a legal abortion. The story showed the series of rights violations to which the girl was being subjected and provoked a necessary debate in Brazil about sexual violence and barriers to accessing reproductive rights. In the days following the publication of the story, the courts authorized the removal of the girl from the shelter and she was able to have access to a legal abortion, a right established in the country in the case of pregnancy resulting from rape.

Investigative journalism often uncovers illegalities and injustices and contributes to the securing of and access to rights. In the case of gender inequalities, investigative journalism also plays a crucial role, as evidenced by this recent case in Brazil. However, in order to carry out a journalistic investigation with a gender perspective, it is important to become familiar with the theme to avoid reproducing sexist notions or revictimizing victims of sexual violence, such as exposing data that could lead to their identification, for example.

Aware that these issues are rarely addressed in journalism courses, professors from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana de México (UAM) will hold an online course on investigative journalism and journalism with a gender perspective from August to November. The course will be held in Spanish and, although it will focus on the Mexican context, it is open to journalists from anywhere in the world.

“Investigative journalism with a gender perspective is journalism that places women's human rights at the center of the investigation,” Lucía Lagunes Huerta told LatAm Journalism Review (LJR). She is a Mexican journalist and sociologist who specializes in non-sexist communication and will be one of the professors of the course.

“This is a journalism that starts by positioning the historical discrimination that women have experienced as a premise, proposes solutions and refers to the legal framework of what has already been won. It recognizes that inequality and discrimination are part of a historical process, does not revictimize and never naturalizes or justifies violence against women.

Huerta is general coordinator of the organization Comunicación e Información de la Mujer (communication and information about women or CIMAC, by its Spanish acronym) and general director of its news outlet CIMAC Noticias. According to her, an example of investigative journalism with a gender perspective is the special "Justicia Patriarcal [patriarchal justice]" an investigation that was carried out by CIMAC Noticias on machismo in the Mexican Judiciary. The work exposed cases of women victims of violence that ended up being punished by the Mexican Justice system, while their aggressors were acquitted or received light or nominal sentences.

For Huerta, journalism that does not incorporate the gender perspective is a “biased journalism,” because “it places as universal that which happens with the 48% that is the male population.” A gender perspective offers “a much more global view of what you are going to investigate,” she said and her assessment is that “investigative journalism in Mexico and Latin America owes a debt to women.”

“Incorporating in investigative journalism this recognition of the exclusion of women and the damage it has done in societies such as ours — we are talking about Latin America being the most unequal region in the world — seems to me fundamental. This is because highlighting the structural conditions that have kept Latin America's development lagging behind has a lot to do with the condition of inequality that women live in.”

According to her, “we are at a historic moment where journalism has to make the qualitative leap we require to guarantee a journalistic ethic that recognizes precisely the right of women to be named as actors in history and to have their human rights recognized as an integral, fundamental part of the human rights of society.”

Journalists at the source of the change

The course offered by UAM takes place as part of the Miguel Ángel Granados Chapa Chair, created in 2014 by the university in honor of the Mexican journalist of the same name, who died in 2011. Arturo Barba, the faculty member responsible for the program, told LJR that the purpose of the Chair is “to encourage the professionalization, training and upgrade of Mexican journalists.”

According to Barba, one of the main activities of the Chair is to hold a training course each year "on a highly significant economic issue of great impact.” In 2018, the topic was that year's elections in Mexico; in 2020 and 2021, the course dealt with coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year, through journalism with a gender perspective, we seek to raise awareness among journalists about the current situation of violence against women in Mexico, the serious problem of gender inequality. As well as the social, public health, cultural and economic effects of discrimination and the violation of women's human rights,” he said.

For Barba, this is “a very serious multi-factor, multi-systemic, complex problem that affects all spheres of social, family and personal activities, and even conscience. It has to do with people's way of thinking, their culture and their way of perceiving reality. The only way to change a conscience and that wrong perception of reality is through reliable and verified knowledge,” he said. “And the basis of all knowledge is information. So we journalists are at that base, at the source of possible change.”.

The course content includes methods and tools to carry out journalistic investigations, together with analyses of gender inequalities and the situation of women in Mexico plus the fundamentals of non-sexist communication. The training is open to journalists and students of communication and journalism.

Barba underlined the alarming context for journalists in Mexico, both in relation to violence and the labor market. He said that professionals who seek to keep up-to-date and participate in a training such as this are “doubly admirable.”

“Journalists must focus our attention and skills on unraveling this problem that is a violation of society as a whole. Which is why it is urgent to train journalists in investigative techniques and methods, as well as in the knowledge of the impact of violence against women,” he said. “These are stories that happen on a daily basis and must be told systematically and on an everyday basis.”