Iraq is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists according to Reporters without Borders, ranking 160 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. Women journalists and activists in Iraq have a particularly difficult time due to online threats and attacks that adversely affect their ability to express themselves freely and advocate effectively. Women have witnessed an escalation in online abuse over the past few years, not just in numbers, but also in methods and sophistication. The risk of harassment and gender-based attacks online is not limited to the digital space as research has shown that online abuse and stalking often escalate into real world physical violence if left unaddressed. In an interview with The New Arab, Hala ‘Asif, a 24-year-old journalist working as a correspondent for the channel NRT in Baghdad, noted that, "Foreign journalists often investigate political affairs in Iraq, which sometimes is impossible for us to cover as it would be too dangerous and would prevent us from working safely in our country. I would like to go to other provinces in Iraq and carry out investigations about relevant issues, but as a young woman it would cost too much to take care of my safety." To address the issue of women’s safety in Iraq, Internews, with funding from the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), is using a multi-pronged approach – building local networks, coordinating advocacy, and conducting targeted journalism trainings on gender-sensitive issues. Internews’ program, Women Voices (Aswat Al-Maraa), aims to challenge societal attitudes that stigmatize survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) by supporting journalists and women human rights defenders to shed light on sensitive issues through coordinated reporting and advocacy. The program works with female Iraqi journalists and media outlets to create a nationwide coalition of women journalists and human rights defenders to strengthen their resilience against gender-based attacks and build the capacity of journalists to report on sensitive human rights and SGBV. Within the Women's Voices project, Internews has conducted so far two training-of-trainers (TOT) workshops that focus on the digital and physical security of the project participants. Through a peer-to-peer program, TOT trainees have trained eighty women from Erbil, Najaf, and Halabja how to protect themselves from threats online and in their everyday lives. Best practices for password security proved to be one of the most beneficial portions of the workshops, with one of the Halabja participants noting, "It has been 10 years and I haven't changed my password on my email or Facebook accounts. This workshop was in particularly important to remind people in our field of work how important it is to protect ourselves online as we do offline." Another participant, from the Erbil workshop, said, "Females often have to face extreme scrutiny of their presence online, and are threatened with death in some instances for photos posted online without family consent or that are considered inappropriate; these kinds of workshops are incredibly important for every female in this country." To support the voices and participation of women in some of the world’s most challenging places, Internews' MENA team ensures the implementation of digital as well as a physical security trainings in all of its projects across the region.
Impact: Women and Media
Reaching equality for all starts with increasing women’s participation, inclusion, and leadership in media and technology.
Women and girls are disproportionately affected by information inequality. Often ignored or invisible in the media, with far less content featuring their expertise and views, women are vastly underrepresented in journalism and media leadership. Worldwide, women still lag behind men in access to the Internet, and when they do engage online, women and girls experience more intense harassment, including sexual harassment.
Internews helps journalists – men and women – produce content that challenges stereotypes, highlights women as drivers of change, and covers critical issues for women and girls. We mentor women leaders in media and technology, design methods to help news outlets increase women as expert sources, and create custom trainings for women, including how to stay safe online. Our Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment Strategy drives our approach.
Women and Media: An Imbalance
Studies show that the disparate experiences between women and men in media is widespread and varied.
Internews in Context: Addressing Sexual Harassment in the Media
To address the issue of women journalists who face sexual harassment, Internews in Tanzania produced this Public Service Announcement, based on a real incident of a woman journalist being harassed while interviewing a source:
The unfortunately common, everyday challenges of navigating online spaces as women is the focus of Safe Sisters, a digital safety and empowerment program that has seen enormous success in increasing women’s ability to safeguard their privacy, protect their data, and, importantly, share their knowledge with women and girls in their communities.
"I can now recognize online violence for what it is and I have learned to choose which battles I fight and which ones I leave. It’s been interesting to see people within my close circles come to realize just how much they have either been victims or perpetrators of violence online and so it’s is an ongoing and evolving conversation.” —Safe Sister
United for News is a non-profit, mission-driven global coalition of media, NGOs and private industry, founded by Internews in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. In this video, Director Jennifer Cobb talks about United for News' program to combat the lack of gender diversity in news reporting:
Saba Rehman is a photographer in Pakistan’s FATA region. She uses her camera to illuminate little-seen and misunderstood corners of her society. Since 2012, when she was one of 17 Pakistani young people selected by Internews to attend an intensive photography training, conducted in partnership with National Geographic Photo Camp, Rehman has been getting herself and her camera into the most unlikely of places.
Farida Rahim Aziz established her radio station – Radio Saraish – in 2013 in Jowzjan, Afghanistan. Even though the years that followed were burdened with hardship and challenges, she has never looked back. Radio Saraish is one of 17 women-led radio stations in Afghanistan’s Salam Watandar Radio Network, launched and supported by Internews. These stations have produced and broadcast more than 400 radio reports and feature stories, covering topics that relate to women in local communities..
"In 2016, the Taliban threatened me and told me to stop broadcasting radio programs about women’s right issues, such as violence against women. I was forced to wear a burqa for my own safety and all our female employees left. But I did not give up."
Girl Power: Little Stories of Big Acts features women from Ukraine's past and present. The book is targeted to children in Ukraine who have been affected by the ongoing conflict. In particular, girls who are especially affected because of their unequal status in society and their sex.
1UNESCO: Re-Thinking Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality in 2015 and Beyond (A further 48% of news stories were evaluated as “neutral” on gender stereotypes.)
2Global Institute for Women’s Leadership