GENEVA (3 May 2022) “On World Press Freedom Day, I urge States to protect women journalists from online and offline attacks, and urge social media companies to ensure that online spaces are free from discrimination and safe for all women,” said Irene Khan, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression. Khan expressed deep concern at rising levels of online gender-based violence, gendered hate speech and disinformation that heighten the risk of physical violence against women journalists. 

“Whether online or offline, those who threaten women journalists seek to intimidate and silence them, putting media freedom, pluralism and diversity as well as the safety of the women themselves in danger,” noted Khan.

“Independent, free, pluralistic and diverse media is essential for democracy. This creates an imperative and urgency for States and media outlets to work proactively to ensure women’s safety and equal participation and representation in the media sector,” said Khan.  

On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, the UN Special Rapporteur  issued a Joint Declaration on freedom of expression and gender justice in collaboration with freedom of expression experts from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The Joint Declaration focuses on challenges to women’s freedom of expression and the roles and responsibilities of States, internet intermediaries and media outlet to address them.

“International human rights law has made it clear that is not enough for States only to refrain from unlawfully restricting women’s freedom of opinion and expression, they are obliged to proactively remove structural, systemic and legal barriers that inhibit women’s free expression and public participation,” said Khan. 

The Joint Declaration calls on States, the private sector, including media outlets and social media platforms, and civil society to address social discrimination, gender stereotyping, entrenched bias, misogyny and interpretations of religion, culture and custom, as well as sexual and gender-based violence and discriminatory laws and policies, that are at the root of gendered censorship.

Noting the vital importance of the Internet and access to information for women’s empowerment, the Declaration urges Governments to accelerate efforts to close the gender digital divide and cautions social media platforms to ensure their business practices and automated or algorithmic processes do not amplify gender stereotypes, bias, misogyny and gender-based violence. 

“Internet intermediaries must respect and uphold women’s human rights and ensure their safety online, including through secure digital communications, strong encryption and anonymity-enhancing tools, products and services,” noted Irene Khan.

The Joint Declaration will be launched live at 19:00 CET from Punte del Este Uruguay, during the World Press Freedom Day Global Conference 2022.

The Joint Declaration is available by clicking here.

*The expert: Ms. Irene Khan was appointed as UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression in June 2020 and is the first woman to hold this mandate. An internationally recognized advocate for human rights, gender equality and social justice, she was Secretary-General of Amnesty International from 2001 to 2009 and Director-General of the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) from 2010 to 2019. Ms. Khan is affiliated with the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, and has been Consulting Editor of the Daily Star, Bangladesh’s largest English newspaper. Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

The freedom of expression mandates issuing the Joint Declaration on freedom of expression and gender justice are: 

  • Mrs. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
  • Mrs. Teresa Ribeiro, OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media,
  • Mr. Pedro Pedro Vaca Villarreal, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, and Hon. Ourveena Geereesha Topsy-Sonoo, African Commission Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.

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