IPI BLOG: Let women journalists' voices be heard
By: Anthony Mills, IPI Deputy Director
As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, it is worth doing so also in the context of that fundamental right: the right to inform and be informed. Journalists both uphold and lay claim to that right.
Recently, the threats female journalists face have been starkly highlighted in Egypt, where a series of women journalists have been among countless women sexually assaulted on or close to the sites of protests.
Of course, brave women journalists have always faced threats – many of them no different from those faced by their male counterparts.
I recall, a number of years back, when I was a correspondent in Beirut, how prominent female TV talk show anchor May Chidiac was the victim of a bomb placed under the seat of her car. Her grievous injuries included the loss of part of a leg and arm. Within a year, and after multiple operations, she was back on television, defiant and unbowed by the attempt to silence her. For her bravery and commitment to her profession, May received the IPI World Press Freedom Hero award at IPI’s World Congress in Vienna.
She joins other extraordinary female media practitioners on the illustrious list of IPI’s now-63 World Press Freedom Heroes. They include: Lydia Cacho, of Mexico, who was abducted and tortured because of her investigative journalism; Katharine Graham, the pioneering former publisher of The Washington Post, on whose watch the paper broke the famous Watergate story; Veronica Guerin, an Irish reporter who was gunned down because of her reporting on organised crime; Amira Hass, who for years has covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from Gaza; and Russia’s Anna Politkovskaya who was assinated in the stairwell of her apartment building after she angered many with her fearless reporting on human rights abuses in Chechnya.
Threats to all journalists, male and female, have grown in recent years. In fact, according to IPI’s records, 2012 was the most lethal year for journalists since IPI began keeping record in the early 1990s, with 133 journalists killed, many of them in Syria.
However, particularly with the rise of courageous female reporters in the Arab world - from Al Jazeera to local media outlets - reporting on wars and uprisings, the threats to female journalists – particularly, but not only, of sexual assault – have been starkly highlighted. There have been the high-profile cases of female Western correspondents assaulted on Tahrir Sqaure in Cairo. These justifiably attention-grabbing stories must not, though, obscure the fact that there are many other reported and unreported cases of assaults against female journalists around the world. In addition, female reporters are still perceived negatively by many of their male colleagues on the job, which helps explain why disproportionately few female media professionals occupy the top spots in media companies. (A panel on the topic figures in the programme for the upcoming IPI World Congress in mid-May in Amman, Jordan.) And sexual harassment of women journalists in the workplace remains alarmingly frequent.
That’s why a variety of initiatives have recently been born, including under the auspices of UNESCO, the only UN agency specifically tasked with upholding freedom of expression, to promote and strengthen the rights and safety of women journalists. The International News Safety Institute (INSI) has also thrown its weight behind the move, releasing a groundbreaking book/study entitled ‘No Woman’s Land’.
It is crucial that in the months and years to come, while not losing sight of the threats faced by all journalists, we seek to strengthen the ability of female journalists to report freely, critically and independently so that their voices can also be heard.