Since the #MeToo movement emerged in 2017, journalists have played an instrumental role in reporting on the phenomenon and uncovering cases of sexual abuse and sexual harassment. As the movement has spread across the globe and exposed sexual misconduct in various sectors in the years since, the media industry itself has been revealed to be implicated in such cases. The exposure of the widespread sexual abuse of women, especially in the workplace, has contributed to triggering a process of reflection on the gender-specific threats faced by women in the media sector – threats that emanate not only from certain colleagues, but also from many other actors as well. And, while both men and women journalists are exposed to violence and threats to their safety, women journalists are additionally targeted by gender-based violence and sexual harassment, online as well as offline.
The need to take into account the gender-specific risks faced by women journalists has given rise to a number of UN resolutions and reports to address the issue in recent years. Resolution A/RES/74/157 by the UN General Assembly expresses concern about specific threats faced by women journalists in relation to their work, and underlines the need to employ a gender-sensitive approach when addressing the safety of journalists. Resolution 39, adopted at the 39th session of UNESCO’s General Conference, invited the Director-General to reinforce activities aimed at addressing the specific threats to the safety of women journalists, both online and offline. And the 2020 report of the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women focused on combatting violence against women journalists.
In this context, this publication aims to shed light on the experiences of women journalists who have been on the receiving end of violence and hateful abuse in the course of their work. It gathers personal essays by 11 women journalists from around the world who have experienced various forms of violence, harassment or abuse. Given the sensitive nature of the subject, it is understandable that, as in one instance below, there are women who chose to share their story anonymously.
The selection of stories shows that violence and hateful abuse against women journalists is both wide-ranging and ubiquitous. It occurs offline as well as online, making the abuse inescapable, and operating along a continuum of coercion. The women featured in this publication have experienced a wide spectrum of threats and attacks, from sexual harassment to sexist hate speech, trolling, death and rape threats, threats to family members, sexual assault and rape. The collection of essays highlights how the abuse operates at the intersection of different forms of discrimination, with many women journalists also facing homophobia, racism, or faith-based discrimination, in addition to gender-based violence, thus worsening the impact.
Women journalists are targeted with violence and abuse not only for the content of their reportage but for daring to have a voice and for existing in the public sphere. By aiming to silence women’s voices, this gender-based violence in all its forms threatens freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity. This is the background to why, through spotlighting the voices and experiences of women journalists, this collection of essays aims to raise awareness of the range of attacks women journalists face due to their job but also because of their gender.
The pages also shed light on their responses, and the recourses that women journalists have turned to, whether through legal means or support networks. A common experience is the failure of duty-bearers to provide justice – whether at the level of state actors, internet companies or media executives. But the publication also highlights potential solutions and tools which aim to address the issue, while displaying women journalists’ resilience and resistance in the face of continued abuse.
The scope and scale of the problem requires concerted efforts and a collective response in order to effectively tackle this pervasive trend. It is unacceptable that women journalists have their rights so violated, and it is intolerable that this happens with impunity. It falls to all of us to act in real solidarity, in support of the cause that is so bravely articulated by these personal testimonies.