As we commemorate this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, under the global theme “UNITE! Invest to prevent violence against women and girls,” it is imperative to address the persistent and pervasive violence and harassment faced by women journalists. Violence against women in journalism not only jeopardises their safety and well-being but also undermines the very foundations of free and independent journalism.
Despite the progress made towards gender equality in the media industry, women journalists continue to bear the brunt of online and offline abuse. A staggering 73% of women journalists surveyed in a 2021 UNESCO report experienced online violence, and nearly half faced physical attacks or threats of physical violence. These figures underscore the urgent need for a proactive and comprehensive approach to prevention.
The pervasiveness of violence against women journalists extends beyond a women’s issue; it poses a direct threat to the core principles of democracy. A free and independent press, the cornerstone of a healthy democracy, is crippled when its members, particularly women journalists, are subjected to intimidation, harassment and physical harm. Silencing their voices erodes the public’s right to know, hinders informed decision-making and paves the way for authoritarian tendencies.
Media organisations, bearing the responsibility of informing the public and upholding democratic values, have a moral obligation to safeguard their female journalists. This obligation extends far beyond mere lip service or performative gestures. It demands concrete investments in comprehensive strategies against violence and harassment targeting female journalists. Investing in the safety of female journalists is not only a moral imperative but also a smart business decision. When women journalists feel safe and supported, they are more likely to thrive and produce high-quality work. This, in turn, benefits media organisations by attracting and retaining top talent, enhancing their credibility, and improving their bottom line.
Therefore for the media, accountability cannot be a mere buzzword; it demands concrete action, unwavering transparency and measurable outcomes. Media organisations must establish robust accountability mechanisms that go beyond token efforts and translate into tangible progress. This requires implementing regular monitoring and evaluation systems to meticulously track progress, establishing clear performance indicators that align with organizational values, and holding individuals accountable for achieving measurable goals. Transparency must permeate all aspects of accountability, from reporting and response protocols to tracing cases and ensuring swift case resolution.
Establishing robust legal support systems is crucial to protect women journalists from the disproportionate repercussions they face due to their gender. Organisations’ legal counsel should not only focus on protecting a company’s name and reputation; they must institute mechanisms that provide direct legal support to women journalists, facilitate their access to justice, and advocate for their rights in courtrooms and beyond. Additionally, legal counsel should play a proactive role in checking the veracity of claims against women journalists and holding perpetrators to account.
Media organisations must implement robust zero-tolerance policies for violence and harassment and equip all staff members, including management, with comprehensive training to recognise, prevent and respond to these behaviors. This training should encompass risk assessment, safety planning and trauma support. Furthermore, media organisations should integrate mental health support into workplace policies and practices to address the unique mental health challenges faced by female journalists, particularly those who have experienced gender-based violence. Leaders must set the tone by demonstrating a commitment to preventing violence and harassment and holding perpetrators accountable.
Media organisations should allocate a dedicated portion of their profits to support initiatives that contribute to the well-being of women in all facets of the media industry, from fieldwork to newsrooms, behind the cameras to in front of the screens. While publicising financial records and business growth is essential for media organisations, it is not enough to simply point to financial success as a measure of progress. Media organisations must also demonstrate that their financial success is translating into concrete benefits for their employees, particularly those who are most vulnerable to violence and harassment. Investing in scholarships, mentorship programmes, and networking opportunities for aspiring and established women journalists is a crucial step in creating a more equitable media industry. These programmes can help women journalists develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in their careers, while also providing them with valuable support and mentorship.