“Violence against women and girls is one of the most systematic and widespread human rights violations. It is rooted in gendered social structures rather than individual and random acts; it cuts across age, socio-economic, educational and geographic boundaries; affects all societies; and is a major obstacle to ending gender inequality and discrimination globally.” (UN General Assembly, 2006)
Each year, The IFJ, its Gender Council and many of its Affiliates join together to highlight gender-based violence against women journalists on 25 November – the UN day to eliminate violence against women and girls. This year, we are at a pivotal moment, a window of opportunity never seen before has been created by the wide-scale discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace. It is time to act and time to change the dialogue.
The UN defines GBV as “any act of gender-based violence that results in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.”
While the definition remains vague intentionally, it clearly highlights the complexity of the issue. The IFJ has had reports of direct forms of violence (targeted violence, murder, femicide, sexual violence, death and familial threats, imprisonment, abuse of sedition and libel laws, bullying, harassment, sexual harassment and online bullying), as well as indirect forms of violence (forced into insecure and temporary work, poverty, discrimination and systemic discrimination).
As women journalists we work under triple jeopardy: at risk as every other woman on the planet, susceptible to the same risks as our male colleagues, and those that impact us specifically because we are women journalists.
The Scale of the Problem
This year the IFJ has published the results of a major survey on gender-based violence at work.
Depending on who you quote, the scope of the impacts of these issues varies. What all experts agree is that all these forms of violence are always under-reported due to fear and resignation that impunity will prevail.
These fears are far from irrational. The number of threats, attacks and murders of women journalists has risen sharply over the past decade. In almost all cases of women journalists killed, attacked, threatened or harassed, they were local reporters, and in many cases of harassment, it was in their workplace. These stories often go unreported. In some places in the world it is easier to ascertain the number of chickens stolen than the number of women killed or attacked. These reports have historically almost never ended with the killers, attackers or abusers brought to justice, keeping attackers and abusers in play; with no fear of consequences – there is no need to stop. But it seems the times may be changing…
According to the Dart Center, the impact of harassment is usually avoidance, denial or leaving the profession. It rarely ends with confrontation of the abuser.
However, the high profile floods of reports of sexual harassment and abuse in the USA and elsewhere has surprised us, but only because of the number of women willing to come forward. These women face the sort of scrutiny historically seen in rape cases that kept many of these women silent for many years. Fear of loss of their work, loss of standing in the community or on the job, shame, stigma and invitation to further abuse, especially online have also kept many women silent.
We, at the IFJ, are hoping that the window of opportunity provided by a more open debate on sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace will give many more women the courage to come forward and Unions the opportunity to create the support mechanisms needed when they do.
A Time to Act
There is much that Unions, Union Federations and States can do. Some of the main campaigns and activities where all Affiliates can participate are listed below, as are some good resources. And please don’t forget to TELL US when your Union joins in, we will add it to our coverage of the day.
ILO/ITUC Campaign: The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the IFJ have been campaigning for an International Labour Organisation Convention against violence in the world of work. We call on all Affiliate Unions to join our sister unions and take to the street this Saturday. Details of the current campaign can be found here
Issue a Statement Standing Against Violence and Harassment: The General Secretary of National Union of Journalists (UK and Ireland), Michelle Stanistreet, issued an excellent statement against harassment of women journalists following recent revelations. Issue one of your own and we will publish it here.
IFJ Byte Back Campaign: Combatting online harassment of women journalists
There is so much more that Unions and affliates can do
1. Organise a workshop to address the level of gender based violence in your media, bring media leaders on board, discuss existing policies to tackle violence at work, reflect on how media report on violence against women (check the IFJ guidelines on reporting on violence against women)
2. Take photo with campaign poster and share it on social media using #VAW #OrangeTheWorld
3. Call on the media:
- to stop objectification women in the news and reflect on fair gender portrayal and ethical reporting on violence against women
- to investigate cases of violence against media female staff and punish perpetrators
- to empower women within their structures
- to implement/improve their internal policy on gender-based violence
4. Send letters to national governments asking them to initiative legislation against gender-based violence
5. Join our campaign against gender based violence at work: more information here
6. Adopt internal policies covering gender-based violence at work and ethical guidelines on reporting violence against women
IFJ Gender Council Co-Chair
- IFJ Guidelines for reporting on violence against women
- Domestic Violence – A Guide for the Workplace
- UNESCO Report on Violence Against Women Journalists
- Sexual harassment - TUC booklet
- Countering Online Abuse of Female Journalists (OSCE)