Gender coverage: Thought Leader leads the pack

The Mail & Guardian‘s blogging platform, Thought Leader, was recently named as the forum where “most analytic discussion of sexual violence” was taking place by the Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre, which recently conducted a study on the reporting of sexual violence in South Africa.

Preliminary findings of the report were released in November to coincide with the 16 days of activism, and monitored news coverage over the period October 2008 to March 2010.

The findings of the report suggested that the media have great influence, but that coverage was not ideal, in that it reported on individual cases, but did not generally focus on broader social causes and effects.

Thought Leader editor Aliki Karasaridis was not surprised that the blogging platform was specifically named in the report, and suggested that the discussion that takes place on the platform is largely due to “specialist” bloggers who regularly write on the subject.

“I think Thought Leader as a blogging/opinion platform has gotten this kind of good discussion going because it is fortunate enough to have Charlene Smith and Jennifer Thorpe as contributors,” she said. “Charlene is an award-winning journalist and rape survivor and Jennifer is a young activist and advocate for women’s rights who works for Rape Crisis Cape Town.”

Active bloggers
Karasaridis said certain bloggers had made the most of the platform to draw attention to gender violence. “Charlene published a series of blog posts on rape, violence, gender and healing last year during the 16 days of activism campaign, and Jennifer is doing the same this year. Charlene had said to me at the time that she wanted to do this ‘to inspire positive change’.”

In “Finding sex”, Smith speaks about intimacy in the wake of a sexual attack, saying: “In all of us raped, we need to relearn that touch is good, that it is a powerful healer. Touch is the way we communicate without speaking. Little can soothe the way a loving touch or warm hug can. It is vital that a person raped gets touched as much as possible afterward, gently and with pure tenderness. Immediately after a rape it is almost as though we are in a different place, disconnected from mere mortals, we need the positive energy of caring touch to reconnect us with life and ourselves.”

Thorpe’s blogs often examine how a culture of rape, violence and chauvinism so deeply pervades South African society.

In “No safe spaces anymore”, she recalls the story of a woman who was allegedly raped while working at a hospital.

The post, like many of Thorpe’s, elicited a strong reaction from readers, getting widely circulated on social networks like Twitter and Facebook, as well as provoking a lively debate in the comment section.

Creating a safe space
“Many commenters, particularly the women, are willing to engage with Charlene and Jennifer’s blog posts, which get lots of comments and often generate heated discussion,” said Karasaridis. “The fact that the blogs and comments are moderated creates a safe space where people can share their views on sensitive topics.”

According to Thought Leader‘s comment guidelines, abusive comments are removed, as well as sexist, racist, or homophobic remarks.

“I think the fact that Thorpe interacts with the commenters and often challenges sexist or misguided remarks allows for some kind of shift in the way people think or perceive things,” added Karasaridis.

She suggested that the medium itself also encouraged such debate.

“I think there is definitely more room for this sort of discussion on a blogging platform than there is in traditional media. Many of the commenters are from different backgrounds. Thought Leader as an online, interactive platform allows for more analysis and discussion than straight news reporting.”

Tshwaranang’s praise is the latest in a series for the platform, which has run for more than three years, winning several awards in that time.

View more on our special report on 16 days of activism here:.

Lisa Van Wyk

Lisa Van Wyk

Lisa van Wyk is the arts editor, which somehow justifies her looking at pretty pictures all day, reading cool art and culture blogs and having the messiest desk in the office. She likes people who share her passion for art, music, food, wine, travel and all things Turkish. She can't ride a bike, but she can read ancient languages and totally understands the offside rule. Read more from Lisa Van Wyk

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