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This World Press Freedom Day lets focus on women journalists

Women journalists the world over continue to face fears of rape, retaliation, physical violence, death, virtual threats and many other risks in the pursuit of a story and in their choice of work. Women journalists no matter the circumstances have at some point in their careers faced direct threats as a result of their job, yet, very little attention is paid to the plight of women journalists.

This World Press Freedom Day, Colombian investigative journalist Jineth Bedoya Lima has been named as the laureate of the 2020 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize on the recommendation of an independent international jury of media professionals. This is the most coveted press freedom award globally, yet, the journey to receiving a Guillermo Cano is one that is usually marked by hardship, heartache, physical pain, threats and loss. This was very much the case for Lima, who was abducted and raped in connection with an investigation into arms trafficking she was conducting for daily newspaper El Espectador. Three years later, while working for the daily El Tiempo, she was kidnapped by militants of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Lima’s reporting has focused on the armed conflict and peace process in Colombia and on sexual violence against women. “The courage and commitment of Jineth Bedoya Lima, doubly exposed to unacceptable risks as a woman and as a journalist, inspire profound respect,” said UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay. “We need the work of professional and independent journalists.”

“The present pandemic highlights the vital role journalists play in providing all of us with access to reliable, in some cases vital, information in crises situations,” Ms. Azoulay added. “It also shows the many risks journalists face everywhere in the world in the exercise of their profession.”

The awarding of the Cano Prize to Lima is a nod to the work of women journalists worldwide, who despite great physical threats and risks, continue to work tirelessly in the pursuit of truth.

Threats to women journalists have been on the rise in the past 10 years at local, regional and international spheres. For women journalists and media workers, gender-based attacks continue to be a persistent part of the daily routine of women journalists according to a recent report by the International Women in Media Foundation (IWMF). Social media has amplified this threat in real life as women journalists become easier to track and are more accessible via social media.

International media organizations such as IWMF, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI), have focused research on threats to journalists as a whole with specific focus on women journalists.

The issue of violence against women journalists will this year be addressed at the Human Rights Committee through a report by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Dubravka Šimonović. The Special Report addressed the unique threats faced by women journalist as a result of their work, and in the process of reporting on gender-based violence and in their role as human rights defenders in their relevant countries. At the end of January 2020, the Special Rapporteur confirmed that the topic of her Report to the 44th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council will focus on the violence against women journalists.

For women journalists facing gender-based violence and discrimination in the news room, in their communities and in the nations they work from, these conditions will continue, will worsen and will eventually drive them out of the profession if there are no interventions by the State to provide a safety mechanism for them.

Understanding how female journalists experience some threats to their safety differently from male colleagues, and the different types of threats they face, is essential to tailor effective prevention, protection and prosecution efforts at the national level. Experts have noted that the way in which threats are used to silence women journalists cannot be separated from the contexts of structural discrimination in which they occur.

Socially ingrained prejudices against women create environments that enable threats, and can make the impacts of those threats distinct or more severe according to published studies on this topic.

Recommendations for protective measures and recognizing the unique threats faced by women journalists in their line of work, as a result of their work and in their choice of work, accounts for a significant portion of threats and violence against journalists worldwide. Specific measures at the national and international level by states, non-state actors and international organizations have not been exhaustive in nature and have not specified the threats to women journalists in detail.

As long as Leaders continue to undermine the work of the independent news media, make derogatory against women journalists and nations ignore the plight faced by women journalists, then press freedom is compromised.

This World Press Freedom Day lets indeed focus on women journalists and their ability to do their work without fear of favour, lets celebrate their courage and continued pursuit for truth in the face of adversity.

Photo: Jineth Bedoya Lima. Credit Nadège Mazars | hans lucas studio