Young Danish reporters put human rights on the front page

By Camille Roch

Stepping into the shoes of journalists as part of a national competition, school students in Denmark put the spotlight on sexual and reproductive rights by publishing 120 newspapers on human rights.

“It has been important for us to tell the stories we heard in our interviews,” shares one of the young reporters. “I was shocked by some of the testimonies”, says another.

Investigating how gender-based discrimination is formed, and how physical and sexual violence affect women in Denmark, around 7,000 secondary students enrolled in a national journalism competition and became reporters for a week. Working in groups or independently, the students researched a topic of their choice related to sexual and reproductive rights, and collected information and testimonies for their newspaper. For this hands-on experience, young reporters could use all the necessary journalistic equipment, including microphones, recorders and cameras.

The results of their investigations show what sexual and reproductive rights mean for young people as well as mirroring their concerns and perceptions of these issues. Some students, for instance, chose to visit women’s shelters where they interviewed employees to understand how the women who live there are affected by discrimination. Others conducted interviews with the local police on sexual violence, and some stopped passers-by to get a sense of the general opinion towards this issue.

Another class from the Børneuniversitetet på Vesterbro school conducted street interviews in Copenhagen on issues such as sexual harassment, and asked people for their opinion on gender-based discrimination. From this they drew a comparative analysis between the perceptions from people ranging from older generations to young children explaining how they see differences between genders. “I was shocked by the interviews we did on the streets, and to hear how many people said they knew people who had been raped, or who had been raped themselves,” a student said in an interview with the local TV about the competition.

Students from the Børneuniversitetet på Vesterbro school prepare before interviewing passers-by in the streets of Copenhagen on their perception of gender issues. Copenhagen, Denmark, March 2016 © Søren Malmose

Altogether, the participating students enrolled in the competition designed a total of 25 webpages, and published 120 newspapers, distributed in schools or as a supplement to the two partnering daily newspapers, Politiken and Ekstra Bladet. The organizers estimate that half a million people have either read or seen the articles, raising significant visibility on sexual and reproductive rights and attracting local media attention. 

For Lisa Blinkenberg, Human Rights Education Manager at Amnesty International Denmark who was involved in preparing young reporters for the competition, the challenge was to make sure that the 7,000 students enrolled in the project would receive training to equip them with the right tools to conduct their investigation and set the right teaching framework. Therefore Amnesty International Denmark provided teachers with educational resources, videos and materials on sexual and reproductive rights to guide students along the research project, including the resource Respect My Rights, Respect My Dignity – Sexual and Reproductive Rights are Human Rights. Prior to the writing process, students worked on several case studies to determine how to report on an issue from a human rights angle. At any stage of the process they could also call a hotline set up for the competition with any question, or to get advice on their research project.

“Our goal was to engage students in a discussion on human rights so that they would be able to take action for the My Body My Rights campaign. We feared that some notions such as the concept of forced marriage, or looking at cases occurring beyond our borders, in Nepal or Burkina Faso, would be difficult for young children to relate to, but on the other hand other elements were relevant to the Danish context. We were also concerned that it would be difficult for young male students to relate to certain topics as many aspects of sexual and reproductive rights concern the rights of women but the evaluation we conducted afterwards shows this was not the case,” says Lisa.

One of the winning classes stand on stage at the Press House in Copenhagen as they are awarded a prize for their newspaper supplement. Copenhagen, Denmark, May 2016 © John Nielsen

In May, the winners of the competition were announced at the Press House in Copenhagen in the presence of a member of Parliament and the two editors-in-chief of the participating newspapers, a welcome boost for aspiring journalists among students. “To elect the best student newspaper, we looked at articles that would offer an original and valuable reflection, and where students had conducted their own interviews and research,” she says.

The young reporters were awarded prizes for the best newspaper and best webpage design for two categories: 6-7th grade and 8-10th grade. In addition, an 8-10th grade school in Copenhagen received a special award for their investment in street interviews and collecting signatures for the campaign. “I am proud that we received an award for the special actions we have done,” says one of the award winners in an interview with local media.

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