Dignified Storytelling for girls and women

Gender dynamics cannot be ignored in storytelling. In some communities, gender norms dictate who is most visible and able to make their voices heard, and often penalise those who do not conform to established roles. In societies where women’s opinions are systematically ignored or silenced, content gatherers will need to carefully strategise culturally sensitive ways to hear from all those involved in the story. This is likely to include consideration of who is best positioned to have the conversations with contributors and where and when they take place. As with all people, planning for and gathering content on stories featuring women needs to be at convenient times and in safe locations for the contributors. Ask contributors what is best for them, and if they have preferences regarding who they feel most comfortable working with on the story.

In many places, prevailing gender norms prescribe limited roles for girls or women, often confined to only domestic life. Even in children’s storybooks, young female characters are traditionally shown in vulnerable roles; for example, as they wait to be rescued by a long-awaited prince. Many stories portray disempowered girls who are not pursuing their dreams or achieving happiness on their own, while, in contrast, boys are often depicted in leading roles and as the heroes of the story.

Gender difference concept. Credit: Roman Didkivskyi, Getty Images

These dominant and stereotypical narratives underline the importance of showing girls and women in roles and responsibilities outside of traditional expectations, which are often passive and confined to domestic, familial spheres. Shifting the stories that are told about girls and women can work to counter stereotypes by bringing to light contributors’ hopes and dreams, diverse personalities and voices, and accomplishments and agency both inside and outside of the home. 

When crafting a story, storytellers should be on alert for sexist language that unnecessarily identifies gender. Make choices to use gender neutral language; for example, when writing in English, by changing singular nouns to plural and using neutral titles for occupations.

While gender inequity is often shaped by stories, there is an equal power to be leveraged through storytelling that promotes gender equity. There are many female photographers, filmmakers, journalists, writers, and illustrators available around the world who are well-positioned to capture and facilitate stories that feature fuller accounts of the struggles and triumphs of girls and women. 

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