Category Archives: 2015 Bursary Winner

Kirsty Strickland: The benchmark has been raised for equality and responsibility in reporting

This article was originally printed in the National Newspaper on 11 December 2015.

IT was Human Rights Day yesterday and, fittingly, also the date of the Write to End Violence against Women Awards. Politicians, women’s groups, and media representatives all came together to reward this year’s successful batch of forward-thinking journalists and bloggers.

The coverage in the build-up to this year’s awards successfully encouraged discussion about the potentially harmful impact of careless reporting of violence against women. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, as the saying goes.

We look back on media norms from the past with a shake of the head and a weary sigh. It’s hard for us to imagine now how certain things were ever acceptable – 16-year-old page three girls being an uncomfortable and relatively recent example.

Practices become ingrained and accepted throughout newsrooms. If we aren’t to rely on hindsight in the future then we need to work to speed up positive change; to give responsible newspapers like The National our support for working to be better; and to tell the ones that fall short that we are over the Jeremy Kyle-style reporting, the ogling and the gore.

We’ve grown up a bit as a nation and we know that this isn’t the standard that should be accepted in 2015.

By giving their backing to The Write to End VAW Awards, The National sent out a clear message that they credit their readers with intelligence and maturity.

The deaths of women at the hands of their partners needn’t be sensationalised and salivated over.

Victims of rape don’t need their worthiness held up to the court of public opinion for verdict. This paper has trusted that people will read and care about these issues without the need for the tried-and-tested tabloid formula.

It is my hope that the New Year sees other Scottish newspapers pledge their commitment to responsible reporting of violence. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time writing for The National and have been heartened by the feedback I have received from readers in response to my articles.

Violence against women isn’t a subject that is always guaranteed to be well received.

Warmest congratulations to all the winners and to those shortlisted. The awards are down to the hard work and vision of Zero Tolerance and their partners. It is right that we celebrate them. Let us hope that in 2016 their benchmark is the one that all journalists use.

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The winners of the 2015 Write to End Violence Against Women Awards; from left: Eve Livingston, Judith Duffy, Isabelle Kerr, Gina Davidson, Alex Renton; photo by Stuart Attwood

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Kirsty Strickland: Fear of violence should not be an accepted part of being female

This article was originally printed in the National Newspaper on 4 December 2015.

Kirsty Strickland won the Write to End Violence Against Women Awards bursary to write a series of articles for The National, media partners and judges, as part of a campaign by Zero Tolerance and other women’s groups. Here is her latest piece, entitled Time to Act.

NOVEMBER 25 this year saw the 55th anniversary of the murder of the Mirabal sisters. The three were civil rights activists in the Dominican Republic who, in 1960, were assassinated on the command of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Their deaths saw the women become martyrs and heroines in the fight against Trujillo’s repressive regime. Across the world, they became symbols of resistance and democracy, and went on to inspire the creation of the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The day is marked annually and signals the commencement of “16 days of activism” to call for global awareness and action against violence against women

The Scottish Parliament marked the day with a debate on violence against women. Margaret Burgess, in her opening contribution, said: “In Scotland, gender-based violence continues to disproportionately affect women and girls, with 80 per cent of survivors of domestic abuse and 95 per cent of rape victims being female. It is a tragic fact that, today, females in Scotland and across the world are at risk of, and are experiencing, violence and abuse precisely because they are women and girls.’’

In what went on to be a largely constructive and thoughtful debate, any pre-election tensions between parties were put to one side. This “bigger picture” politics hasn’t always been on show at Holyrood, and it certainly isn’t a given at Westminster

In the recent Autumn Statement George Osborne announced that the money raised from the VAT on sanitary products would be shared among selected women’s charities.

The pledge was met with celebratory low-octave cheers from his benches. A tax on our wombs dressed up as a winning scratchcard for keeping women safe.

Should we really be grateful for the Chancellor’s generosity in redistributing funds to vital services that should already be a priority in the first place?

MSPs seem to be widening the gap with Westminster in terms of their willingness to take time to explore root causes of inequality and violence. Throughout Tuesday’s debate there was a welcome acknowledgement that violence against women is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality. This is progress, and a credit to the sustained and collaborative efforts of women’s organisations in Scotland.

There seems to be the will, and during the debate in Holyrood there were plenty of suggestions for a way. Through sex and consent education, preventative measures such as Claire’s Law & initiatives like Equally Safe there is plenty of scope for action. Agreement too, that the perpetrators of violence must be sent a clear message that abuse will not be tolerated and society will not sit idly by.

In her contribution, Conservative MSP Nanette Milne pointed out that last year in Scotland a domestic incident was reported to the police every nine minutes. She went on to say that dealing such incidents consumed around 20 per cent of the force’s operational time.

Something has to give. Not because violence against women costs a lot of money – though it does. Not because services are stretched, though they undoubtedly are. Not because the measures that women are expected to employ to keep themselves safe are ever more extensive – though that also is true

No. Something has to give because for too long there has been a societal acceptance that the threat and consequences of male violence are just part of the female experience. That acceptance has tainted the willingness of the wider public to accept that it shouldn’t have to be like this. Fear of violence should not an inevitable consequence of being a woman.

Somebody once said that “Feminism is the crazy notion that women are people.” Marco Biagi MSP echoed this sentiment nicely in the chamber when he remarked: “All men have mothers, sisters, nieces or other female relatives, but it would be a stark society where respect for women came only because of family. Is our common humanity not enough? Respect for other human beings says this is violence and cruelty, and it is unacceptable.”

During and after these “16 days of activism” the spotlight on the issues surrounding violence against women will be brighter than ever before. Now – together, is surely the critical time to act?

The shortlist for the 3rd annual Write to End Violence against Women Awards is now available at writetoendvaw.com.

The award showcases journalists, students and bloggers whose work makes an important contribution to ending violence against women.

KirstyVAW not inevitable

Kirsty Strickland: High time a female politician’s opinions were more important than her ovaries and hairstyle

This article was originally printed in the National Newspaper on 28 October 2015.

AWARD-WINNING blogger Kirsty Strickland tackles the controversial issue of women’s equality on public boards in her latest article for The National after winning a bursary as part of this year’s Write to End Violence Against Women Awards.

THERE are many reasons why women are still vastly underrepresented in Parliament. The General Election in May saw a record number of women elected. The fact remains, however, that this “best ever” result of 29 per cent female MPs is still woefully short of true gender balance.

We can look to the way that female politicians are presented to us in the press to see with glaring clarity why for many young women public life just isn’t an option. There is a certain unique scrutiny about being female and occupying a politician’s platform.

A new hairstyle seemingly cannot be left uncommented upon. What she wears during an interview often gains more coverage than the words she used. The content of her wardrobe far too often has a higher significance placed upon it than her contribution to the debate. We require that she demonstrates that she is tough enough to do the job but deride her for being “cold” or “icy”. She must be presentable on camera, but if her dress rides up and we catch a glance of her knee then that is the photo that will be used in subsequent news stories. Sexy is frowned upon, but she also must not be frumpy or dowdy.

Similarly, if she has children, criticisms are levelled about her ability to juggle family and office. If she doesn’t, her womanliness and empathy is brought into question. Such as in the case of former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. During her time in office, Gillard was accused by one senator of being “deliberately barren” and the fact that she didn’t have children was regularly commented upon by the Australian press.

Nicola Sturgeon has faced similar intrusive questions about why she doesn’t have children, particularly during the General Election campaign when her profile was raised UK-wide. When an STV interview was aired in which she was asked again about her reproductive decisions, the social media mood seemed to be: “It’s none of our damn business.”

Sturgeon, more diplomatic than the line of questioning deserved, replied: “Alex Salmond doesn’t have children. I’m not aware of reading an interview or seeing an interview with Alex Salmond asking that question.

“So yes, I understand it but I think it’s just one of these things. I’m not moaning about this but it’s just one of these things that I think is just a bit different if you’re a woman in politics.”

During the General Election campaign, sexism in the press reached peak silliness with The Sun’s crude mocked-up front cover of the First Minister in underwear, straddling a wrecking ball.

It is said to reduce nerves while giving a speech or presentation to imagine your audience naked. It makes them seem less intimidating. Objectifying a woman by Photoshopping her as scantily-clad reduces her power and credibility. Yes, she may be the leader of a country but we’ve shown you what she would look like in a tartan bra and she’s not so powerful now.

We are, albeit gradually, heading towards a political arena with more women in Parliament and positions of influence. It is critical, therefore, that our media gets over the novelty of powerful women and unfocuses itself from trivialities like aesthetics. As Talat Yaqoob, chair of the Women5050 campaign, points out: “Women leaders are discussed as clothes hangers rather than as leaders with political opinions.”

When women in public life are reduced to details about their weight or haircut that is space that could be taken up discussing their policies, achievements and contributions. This matters, because we don’t have enough women in Parliament as it is without creating an ever more off-putting and hostile media environment for potential new candidates.

With Holyrood elections just around the corner, we are in the exciting position of seeing three women leading the major parties. We need political reporting that scrutinises the leaders for their policies rather than their appearance.

We need the wider press to take a step back and ask themselves: is this really of interest to the public? If the article they are pondering is about the cooking ability, clothes choices or reproductive status of Kezia, Ruth or Nicola, then the answer surely can only ever be no.

ChamberRearIIHR20101006 (1)Women’s contributions here matter more than what they are wearing. Image © Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body – 2012. Licensed under the Open Scottish Parliament Licence v1.0.

Kirsty Strickland: Tabloid leering at violent crime is leading to a race to bottom

This article was originally printed in the National Newspaper on 2 October 2015.

REEVA Steenkamp was shot and killed by her partner Oscar Pistorius on February 14, 2014. It was Valentine’s Day, and also the day women danced in the streets for the One Billion Rising campaign to end violence against women. The day after she was killed, The Sun newspaper ran a now infamous front page. Reeva’s swimsuit clad image, staring out to the reader, juxtaposed with the headline: 3 shots. Screams. Silence. 3 more shots.

Reaction to the cover was as swift as it was furious. Columnist Suzanne Moore said it was “lechery over a corpse” while former deputy prime minister John Prescott called for a boycott of the paper. People were concerned about what some called the “rebranding of domestic violence as entertainment”.Kirsty Tabloid Toxic

This retelling of violence as click-bait or tabloid-fodder isn’t only a feature of high-profile cases like Reeva’s, however.

You may have read about Maria Nemeth last week. She was found dead in her apartment in Florida. Her boyfriend Fidel Lopez, 24, phoned the emergency services, stating his girlfriend was having trouble breathing. When they arrived they found Maria, 31, on the bathroom floor mutilated. Her injuries were extensive and savage. She had been assaulted with various objects and pronounced dead at the scene. Afterwards, Lopez admitted he had ‘flew into a rage’ and ‘became a monster’. He told how he assaulted Nemeth while she was unconscious before disembowelling her. He claimed the catalyst for his violence was Maria said her ex’s name while she and Lopez were having sex.

That detail is what made the headlines. It was picked up on and repeated. The Metro went with “Man ripped out girlfriends’ intestines because she screamed ex’s name during sex” . The Sun meanwhile, got straight to what it thought was the point with “Killed for calling out ex’s name during sex”.

You see the effect emphasising details like that have when reading through the comments. Many express sympathy, but for others headline detail is what needs to be discussed. “She said another guy’s name? That’s enough to set anyone off”, “She won’t be making that mistake again” .

Typical of the internet? Perhaps. But it’s a product of a culture that seeks to excuse certain violence if there is the merest suggestion the victim had stepped out of line. Pick your crime – murder, rape, domestic abuse – and then look for the oft repeated get-out clauses. She was drunk. She was frigid. She didn’t pay him attention. She nagged.

The tabloidisation of violent crime is toxic. It’s what drives editors to put a bikini shot of a dead woman on its front page while her body lies cold in a morgue. It’s the one-upmanship of gore, who prints the most graphic pictures, the bloodiest details.

The implements used to violate Maria Nemeth weren’t just mentioned, they were emboldened. The state of her body was described, her many injuries recounted. In all of this detail, all of the brutality and out-of-context violence, nothing makes sense. It’s put in the box marked ‘mindless acts of violence’ and we all move on.

This means the scale of the problem of violence against women goes unchecked. Good reporting should join up the dots in terms of gender-based violence and its social consequences.

Is gore and unfiltered death really what readers want? Maybe. But if our appetite for ever-more violent descriptions and imagery is what is fuelling this race to the bottom then that’s surely a trend we need to buck. There will be more Marias, more Reevas. In the US the chances of a woman facing violence by an intimate or ex-partner are one in three. Across the UK two women a week are killed by a partner or ex.

In December the Write to End Violence Against Women Awards will be held at the Scottish Parliament. The awards and campaign will celebrate journalists, bloggers and writers who seek to report violence against women in a more responsible way.

Through recognising and rewarding that higher standard of writing the hope is other reporters will be encouraged to do better and take more care.

You can get involved by nominating journalists and bloggers who are getting it right and those who deserve the Wooden Spoon Award. The deadline for nominations is October 31. Go to writetoendvaw.com and tweet using #WriteToEndVAW.

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The 2015 Write to End VAW Awards will be held in the Scottish Parliament on 10 December.

Kirsty Strickland: Media matters when it comes to tackling violence against women

This article was originally printed in the National Newspaper on 31 August 2015.

A shortened version also appeared in Common Space. Kirsty Quote Not Just A Domestic

During the independence referendum and more recently during the General Election campaign, much was made of the idea of a potential progressive new Scotland.

You see the word being bandied about on Twitter, almost used as an in-waiting badge for a country we so desperately want to be.

Most people will have their own interpretation of what that entails. Some already think Scotland is progressive in comparison to the rest of the UK, others recognise we still have some way to go.

For me personally, the epitome of progression is – with good intention in your heart – challenging conventions and practices that hold a country or its people back. That means looking at societal problems with a critical eye and asking ourselves – can we do more? Is this really the best we can do?

One such problem we face in Scotland, on a similar shameful scale as our counterparts in the rest of the UK, is the issue of male violence against women and girls. This is a complex social problem, encompassing domestic abuse, sexual violence and rape, as well as so-called “honour” crimes and forced marriage. These issues are multifaceted and nuanced. As such,the way the media report these crimes can sometimes exacerbate and inflame the discourse, rather than inform the reader.

That is why am delighted The National has given its support to Zero Tolerance’s Write To End Violence Against Women Awards. The awards, held at the Scottish Parliament, have been running for three years, and celebrate journalists and writers who report VAW in a responsible way.

This means not sensationalising to titillate readers and not salivating over the gory details. It means avoiding lazy stereotypes and victim blaming, as well as providing the context of gendered violence. In short, the awards and campaign encourage writers to seek a higher standard and understanding of the complexity of the issues surrounding violence against women (VAW).

Scotland is becoming ever more critical of its media, and rightly so. Expectations are high. This has paved the way for “New Media” such as Common Space and to step in and fill gaps that the referendum uncovered. This time of transition provides a golden opportunity to look at the way VAW is reported and let news outlets know we expect better. We expect some progression from the offering thus far.

Words have the power to change perceptions, to ignite prejudice or help wash it away. They have the power to mould public opinion and. in turn, how we perceive victims and their worthiness.

Media matters.

By celebrating the writers and journalists who think more deeply about the issues surrounding VAW and report it with more care, we can encourage the bar to be lifted and the acceptable status quo to be shifted. We need to change the idea that a woman’s sexual history has any place next to the details of her murder. We need to change the perception that a man beating his wife is “just a domestic”.

We need to change grotesque nicknames – The Body in the Loft, The Shampoo Bottle Murder – that sensationalise the violent actions of one human being against another.

We need to change these things, because if we don’t, we can’t really change Scotland in any meaningful way. Yes, we can become greener, we can become fairer, we can become more politically engaged, we can even have a female First Minister.

But if the safety of Scotland’s women in life – and the dignity of them in death – is ignored, it will be a long time before we can truly call ourselves progressive.

The Zero Tolerance Handle With Care guide offers advice on various issues from interviewing survivors to providing relevant context and ensuring that violence is neither trivialised nor sensationalised

The Zero Tolerance Handle With Care guide offers advice on responsible VAW reporting.