[Regional] From cheap shots, sexist innuendo to downright threats, women in media are having a tough time

Gender often forms the basis of vile comments thrown women journalists’ way. It is also the underlying factor for much of the discrimination that they are made to suffer in the course of their work.

Fighting Gender-based Violence: Some Useful References

Efforts to fight gender-based violence, empower women, and promote gender equality in and through the media continue to gain ground all over the world. 

Journalists and media organizations can have access to different resources and tools that promote gender-sensitivity and the protection of female media practitioners. Following are useful references: 

·      Gender-Sensitive Indicators for Media by UNESCO (2012) 
·      Mapping Research in Gender and Digital Technology by the Association for Progressive Communications(2018) 
·      Gender audit by IFEX (2018) 
·      Online Harassment Field Manual by PEN America
·      New Challenges to Freedom of Expression: Countering Online Abuse of Female Journalists by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (2016) 

Filipino journalist Jamela Alindogan knows this only too well. “Genderized disinformation” campaign was directed at the Al-Jazeera correspondent after she seemingly annoyed supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte for her reports that were perceived as critical of his administration.

“They would become even more upset … when Alindogan interviewed the President on camera and asked him questions regarding his stance on democratic processes and the atrocities of the Marcos regime,” says a report produced by SEAPA fellow Page Occeñola.

Soon after, Alindogan noticed a strange kind of disinformation campaign aimed at her,” says Occeñola.

“It happened to be comments and stories posted online of Alindogan supposedly having undergone plastic surgery. A meme, which circulated on Facebook, had her photo and that of another journalist posted side by side with the caption, ‘When the looks God gave you simply isn’t (sic) enough. It pays to be Jamela from Al Jazeera’, implying that Alindogan had work done on her face.

“If they can’t attack you for the work that you do, they attack how you look because they expect that our looks make up who we are as women,”Alindogan was quoted as saying.

Offline, Filipino women journalists have also experienced sexual harassment such as catcalling (by President Duterte himself) and unwanted sexual remarks. INSI and IWMF reported that the most commonly reported perpetrators of “intimidation, threats and abuse” were bosses, followed by supervisors, co-workers, interviewees, government officials, police, and subordinates.             

The 2018 survey by the Internatjonal Federation of Journalists found that two-thirds of women journalists suffered online harassment based on their gender, while their male counterparts did not. Among the women respondents, 48 % received sexist insults, 46 % got comments that devalued their work because of their gender identity, 22 % received obscene images from unknown individuals, and 14 % received rape threats. 53% of those who experience online abuse reported to the media management or authorities. 2 in 3 cases have gone unpunished.

In a 2018 Fojo Media Institute study,  67% of journalist respondents from Mexico, the Philippines, Pakistan, Ukraine, Egypt, and Sweden showed that online hate, harassment and threats targeted at women are meant to discredit their reporting. “Sexualised language is used to dampen the effect of the journalist’s copy, or to scare them into shutting up all together,” said the report. Online and offline attacks against women journalists are a form of censorship, it added.

In Myanmar, women journalists have reported being teased for being young. Wai Mar Theint of the Myanmar Journalist Network (MJN) recounted: “I felt like I was harassed by their (male journalists’) words and expression. Overall, it is very obvious (that there is not enough) space for women journalists’ development in many newsrooms.”

The 2018 IWMF and Troll-Busters.com survey reported that some respondents received professional backlash for reporting harassments or attacks to their supervisors. Some feared being taken off their beat, while some feared retaliation or reprisals.

Denial of access to paid work, exclusion from certain jobs, and curtailment of civil, cultural, social or political rights are categorized by the UN Women as socio-economic violence targeted at women. Female journalists are not exempt from this form of violence.

Working practices that are “family-unfriendly” such as inflexible working hours and penalizing women who take the time out to raise a family, contribute to this inequality.

In Medan, Indonesia, three female journalists from the State Radio (RRI) were dismissed last year without reason or any written notice. One of the three media workers was five months pregnant.  A year before, her colleague was similarly dismissed from employment during pregnancy. “I was forced to sign the termination of employment with no proper allowance,”she said.

SEAPA highlights the ongoing threats and harassment against Rappler, its reporters, and CEO Maria Ressa. On #InternationalWomensDay, their struggle demonstrates the gendered attacks that women journalists around the world face and experience.

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