UNESCO Media Forum on Media and Gender in Bangkok talks to increase fair share of women in the media and end discrimination against women as part of 16 Days of Activism to End Gender-based Violence

Date: Monday, December 2, 2013

Author: Montira Narkvichien

Bangkok — Women being under-represented in the mass media and facing gender-based discrimination and exploitation in their career is central to solution finding efforts of the Global Forum on Media and Gender.

Despite significant achievements of equality, gender-based discrimination persists across Asia and the Pacific in all areas and journalism is no exception. Much of this inequality is expressed in violence against women. As a recent UN study shows, one in four men in the region admitted to having perpetrated violence against women, for most part, against their partners. That study underscores that the culture of inequality touches most women either in the home to in the workplace or community.

Journalists often face insecurity in their reporting particularly in situations of conflict and political polarization. Yet we know that the harms are different for women and men journalists as recent experiences highlight. Women can be exposed to sexual assaults, whether in the form of a targeted sexual violation, often in reprisal for their work, mob-related sexual violence aimed against journalists covering public events; or the sexual abuse of journalists in detention or captivity.

As a global phenomenon, according to the preliminary findings of the International News Safety Institute (INSI) and the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), two-thirds of women journalists have experienced intimidation, threats or abuse in relation to their work. The INSI and IWMF findings with 875 women journalists responding are released to coincide with the Global Forum on Media and Gender in Bangkok.

 “With around 20 per cent of respondents experiencing physical abuse as well as digital surveillance and attacks, the results are a clear indicator of where we need to put our attention in order to provide assistance to those confronting these attacks as well as to develop strategies to mitigate them,” said Elisa Lees Munoz, Executive Director of the IWMF.

In addition, sexual harassment in the workplace also occurs. Often patriarchy controls women’s actions and choices in such a subtle way that it becomes difficult to challenge it. Gender discrimination leads to a skewed newsroom composition and even hinders the professional growth of women journalists.

“We knew anecdotally that many women working in the news media faced these threats and this reality, but we were surprised to see the scale of insecurity our colleagues experience on a daily basis and not just in conflict zones or where there is civil unrest, but often in their own offices and at the hands of their own colleagues,” said Hannah Storm, Director of INSI.

All of this is complicated by internet abuse and online harassment. Disagreement or disapproval of a journalist’s work is expressed by passing personal comments that are invariably sexist or misogynist in nature. Online abuse is therefore, another area that requires action.

Often these experiences are characterized by silence on the part of women journalists and therefore impunity for perpetrators of such violence as where for example the survivor does not reveal such incidents because of fear of stigmatization. There is also a lack of adequate support systems for such women - both legal and emotional. As a result, there are increasing calls for media organizations to provide safeguards to their employees, who are often expected to take calculated risks.

Apart from violating women’s human rights, such abuse also has the secondary impact of silencing media outlets and limit freedom of expression.

In this context it is accepted that there should be a focus on women in the media. UNESCO and the UN system have identified the need to enhancing protection for women journalists in response to the increasing incidence of sexual harassment and rape. A 2013 UNESCO publication on Journalists’ Safety Indicators does recognize that women journalists may be subject to specific sexual harassment and violence. 

In the coming two days of the UNESCO media forum, where UN Women is a key partner, 500 media policy makers from 50 nations will find solutions to safety issues of female journalists and ways to increase a balanced number of women in top decision-making positions in the fast-paced news industry and trend of commoditization of news and media information.

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka said in her video message, “As recently as 2010, women represented just a third of journalists reporting news and less than a quarter of people that made the news. We need women as decision makers in the media organizations and more content that is free from gender stereo type and we know one leads to the other but most importantly, the media must become a force for change in advancing the women’s agenda.”

“Without the real voice in the decision making in forming the content and the direction in the media, even in the critical mass, we are not achieving real gender equality in the media,” said Kalpana Sharma from the Hindu newspaper of India said in her keynote address.

Recommendations were made on the first day’s session include the media houses must adopt clear anti-discrimination policies; ensure mechanisms to ensure safety as well as provision for insurance of all employees as well as introducing and implementing laws against sexual harassment at the workplace where employers must deal with such problems in a fair, impartial and lawful manner.

Current low level of women in media presentation is “perhaps journalists have yet to cover these stories in a significant way,” said Mr. Per Lundgren, Senior Adviser for Culture & media at the Nordic Council of Ministers.

There are now international norms and standards to end impunity for all forms of violence against women. The declaration of the Elimination of Violence against Women calls on states to develop, in a comprehensive way, preventive approaches that promote the protection of women against any form of  violence, and ensure that the re-victimization of women does not occur  because of laws insensitive to gender considerations, enforcement practices or other interventions. In a similar fashion the Beijing Platform for Action in speaking to violence calls on the media to:

“Raise awareness of the responsibility of the media in promoting non-stereotyped images of women and men, as well as in eliminating patterns of media presentation that generate violence, and encourage those responsible for media content to establish professional guidelines and codes of conduct.”