Each year, the IFJ Gender Council highlights reports of violence, abuse and harassment collected by the Council, IFJ affiliates and regional offices for the UN Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls on November 25. And, what we are doing about it.
Each year, women journalists are killed, assaulted, threatened, jailed, abused and harassed, most often for doing their job, but also for the ongoing and pandemic discrimination that normalizes violence against women around the globe, and maintains impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes firmly in place.
Recent UNESCO statistics show that less than 1 in ten killings of journalists is prosecuted, and 92% of violence used to suppress free expression is never brought to justice.
While some of the women highlighted in this report have been killed, assaulted, threatened and abused from outside forces that seek to silence them, according to the IWMF/INSI survey (published in 2014), half of the women journalists surveyed experienced abuse from within their jobs, and two-thirds had experienced some form of abuse or harassment in the course of their job.
A stark reminder of the worst of the violence was highlighted when delegates to the IFJ Congress in June of this year laid a white rose to commemorate Camille Lepage, killed on 12 May 2014 in the Central African Republic. Her death, like so many others, remains uninvestigated. So far, this year, there have been three confirmed deaths of women journalists (Anabel Flores Salazar and Zamira Esther Bautista, both from Mexico, and Sagal Salad Osmam from Somalia), as well as one unconfirmed death in Afghanistan.
Violence meant to silence and suppress
Confirmed reports of other forms of violence from around the globe form a shocking litany of human rights violations and continue to threaten press freedom every day. The examples below are some of these incidences reported since the IFJ Congress, in June of this year.
In Africa, as well as the murder of Osmam in Somalia, vicious attacks on several female journalists in Uganda were reported during the last Presidential poll.
In India, violence in the form of bullying, abusive language, physical assault and sexual harassment against women journalists is on the rise, but has recently come into sharper focus due to several recent incidents, many of which were specifically aimed at the suppression of the press. Malini Subramaniam, formerly a Red Cross worker and now a journalist with the internet site Scroll was threatened by a vigilante group of Chattisgarh police. She has been under pressure to flee as a result of her reporting on human rights violations and police brutality.
Another series of reported incidents concern women journalists abused and beaten in Delhi, at the Patiala Courts, by lawyers who wanted to stop the media from covering a controversial sedition case. Likewise, in the southern-most state in India, Kerala, lawyers attacked women journalists on the High Court premises following media coverage of a reported attempt by a government official to molest a woman.
In the Philippines, one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, freelance journalist Gretchen Malalad and Al Jazeera correspondent Jamela Alindogan-Caudron were targeted for critical reporting of the government’s controversial anti-drug campaign and the almost 2500 people killed since the inauguration of President Rodrigo Duterte. Both journalists have received threats of rape and harm to their families. In Malaysia, women journalists were among those attacked while covering protests, and in Hong Kong a female journalist was pushed to the ground by a police support group when she tried to cover a political banquet event.
Social Media and Harassment
According to a recent Council of Europe conference on gender equality, women journalists pay a particularly high price online, a fact highlighted by a recent survey by The Guardian in the UK, which showed that 8 out of 10 of its most abused writers are women. This form of abuse, or trolling, can and has led to actual harm and violence and is on the rise globally.
During the run-up to the US Presidential elections we witnessed the full aggression of social media as a tool. When Fox News anchor, Megyn Kelly, asked the (then candidate) Trump an uncomfortable question on his use of sexist language during the first debate, she was inundated with extreme and violent online abuse, including a re-tweet saying “let’s gut her” from Mr Trump’s lawyer. This led to nine months of her living under a security threat with armed guards.
So what can we do? A lot.
We can support our members to prosecute perpetrators of these crimes and break through the silence surrounding them.
The Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) and six female news anchors filed sexual harassment complaints against the director of the state-run channel Pakistan Television (PTV). Athar Farooq Bhuttar was censured and fined by the Federal Ombudsperson Against Harassment of Women in the Workplace. Also this year, the family of slain journalist Marie Colvin have filed a lawsuit accusing the regime of Bashar al-Assad of Syria of killing her on 22 February 2012 in the city of Homs. The family believe she, as well as other journalists, had been deliberately targeted to stop her from covering government atrocities.
We can continue to provide training. Those working in conflict areas face increased dangers. While foreign correspondents face risks the greatest dangers are faced by local journalists. Safety training is therefore essential. The IFJ has carried out safety trainings on every continent – and in just the last few months training has been carried out in Yemen, Georgia, Iraq, Palestine and Armenia to name just a few countries.
Other forms of training can increase understanding and inspire action, such as a recent workshop held in Vanuatu on gender-based violence, which stressed the importance of recognising that combatting violence means a new way of thinking, that gender equality is a shared responsibility. Similar workshops were carried out in Southern Africa and Latin America in recent months.
We can participate and initiate actions, on our own, or in solidarity. For example, the Italian union’s FNSI Equal Opportunity Commission will join a national march on 26 November in Rome against femicide. As women journalists, they want to highlight and call for improvements in how the press and TV represent violence against women, according to the role assigned to media by the Istanbul Convention. In Peru and Argentina journalists unions joined national mobilisations to highlight femicide and violence against women.
In the IFJ Latin American region unions are planning a further 15 days of campaigning after November 25th highlighting gender-based violence in each of the countries of the 15 Spanish-speaking Latin American unions.
We can continue to collect data on violence to better understand the scope, scale and cultural aspects of violence - such as two recent studies released in Latin America. The first from the Pan American Health Organization Violence against women in Latin America and the Caribbean, Comparative analysis of population data from 12 countries highlighted (among other things) that 10.2% of the women surveyed in 12 countries reported suffering from sexual violence (being forced to have sexual relations or acts or to engage in sexual relationships or acts out of fear).
The other study from the Latin American and Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women's Rights Patterns of Violence against Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, showed that of every 100.000 women in Latin America, seven are murdered in femicides.
We can improve and extend reporting mechanisms and platforms to report violence against women journalists, both in the regions and in individual unions. On International Women’s day this year, March 8, the EFJ launched an online tool for reporting acts of violence against women journalists with The European Center for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) and Italian journalists’ union FNSI. The map below shows the number of cases so far reported, confidentially, across Europe. It is not only to create a realistic database, but to try and assist women who are experiencing violence and harassment. To report an incident
The IFJ Gender Council would like to see this sort of reporting mechanism extended to other regions, and would encourage affiliates who do not have local pathways to report violence or harassment, to consider setting them up in consultation with female members.
As an essential tool to fight back against impunity we ask all affiliates to support the upcoming campaign for an ILO Convention on Gender-Based Violence in the World of Work. Trade union activists have been lobbying for a binding International Labour Organization (ILO) convention against gender-based violence in the workplace for many years. At the end of 2015, the ILO finally announced that a debate for a convention will be on the agenda in 2018, as a convention covering all workers, with a focus on gender-based violence. While the Gender Council adopted and discussed the campaign at their Congress meeting, at a recent Executive Committee meeting the campaign was adopted as an IFJ Campaign, along with other global union federations in the ITUC. Initial information on this upcoming campaign is available on the ITUC website, with full campaigning material and information available at the beginning of next year. Given that many member states do not see the need for such a standard convention, and employer’s groups are not often in favour either, we will need to mobilise for this very important campaign, which we will launch in January.
Mindy Ran, Co-Chair of the IFJ Gender Council
The 2015 IFJ survey on gender, Inside the News: Challenges and Aspirations for Women Journalists in Asia and the Pacific
For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 16
The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries