Violence and Harassment against Women Journalists

On 10 March 10 2014, the Permanent Mission of Austria and International News Safety Institute hosted a side session called “Violence and Harassment against Women Journalists” at the Human Rights Council in Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The event presented the results of a study, conducted by the International News Safety Institute (INSI) and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), which surveyed female journalists around the world about the violence and harassment they experienced in their workplace. Alana Barton, Program Manager of IWMF, explained how the report found that nearly two thirds of respondents received some form of intimidation, threat or abuse in relation to their workplace, most commonly through the Internet. Some 15 per cent of respondents faced some act of sexual violence, and nearly half faced some form of sexual harassment, such as unwanted comments or sexual threats in the office. In addition, only one third of respondents said their organisations take measures to protect their security, meaning that journalists are not prepared on how to react to these incidents.

The common perpetrators are the journalists’ bosses, which makes it difficult to report cases. Sylvie Coudray, Chief of Section, Communication and Information Sector of UNESCO, explained that respondents may be hesitant to report cases because they feel stigmatised, fear being seen as vulnerable or fear not being given future assignments.

Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, explained there has been a rise in violence against journalists in general, most likely linked to the development of the Internet. With news getting out faster and becoming more public, authoritarian regimes are scared of criticism and make it more dangerous to pursue investigative journalism.

Natia Koberidze, Georgian journalist and representative of the International Press Institute, said that the Human Rights Council adopting a resolution on the safety of journalists is a big step forward.

Recommendations were presented on how journalists, civil society, governments and news organisations can improve the safety of female journalists. Hannah Storm, Director of INSI, explained that reporters should prepare themselves physically and emotionally for a story and be aware of their environment, especially of the cultural norms and what clothing is appropriate. Journalists should also gather information about the country and have a plan of communication on how they will alert people on their status.

La Rue urged to persuade all states to acknowledge that journalism is paramount to democracy, and suggested that for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), all states should have a section on what legislation their country has in place to protect journalists from violence and harassment. GWI and NFAs can be involved in this process by assisting states in writing their reports. The lack of political will leads to a vicious circle of silence, according to La Rue, because if the highest authorities criticise the press, there is no one to protect the journalists’ interests.

He continued by recommending that all states train their personnel and civic society on how to deal with the media. Furthermore, La Rue expressed that more women police are needed to deal with the crisis because they would have a better understanding of the situation. Impunity is the biggest issue in the insufficient security for women journalists. States need to investigate all cases and ensure that women have the same rights to practice journalism as men.

Coudray also offered suggestions for ending the abuse of female journalists. She believes raising awareness is crucial, and the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women held in November is an important step in addressing this. GWI also promotes raising awareness on issues and encourages participating in events to educate people.

The speakers explained the significance of corporate responsibility and news organisations need to have formal training and safety guidelines to prepare emplyees for the different dangerous situations they may encounter. Providing training for women relates to GWI’s mission on supporting all types of education to enable them to attain personal dignity and use their full potential in both private and public life.