“I dress traditionally, so the soldiers are more comfortable with my presence,” Sanaa explains. The young Syrian woman is a photojournalist and covers the war in Aleppo. With a nod, Vildana Selimbegovic encourages Sanaa to continue her relay of how she navigates being a war reporter in Syria. For Vildana Selimbegovic and Borka Ruic it has been more than twenty years since they began their career in journalism reporting on the Bosnian conflict in the early 1990s. In December 2015, the two Bosnian veteran war reporters spent five days in Gaziantep, a Turkish town near the Syrian border, sharing their experiences with a group of young female Syrian media workers.
“It was crucial to have our female contributors exposed to best practices on how to avoid sexual abuse while working as war reporters,” explains Reem Aleppo, the Director General from IMS partner Nasaem Syria Radio Station and Jasmine Syria Magazine.
IMS recognises that conflicts might provide both additional obstacles and new opportunities for female media workers. Obstacles because high-risk, largely male-dominated environments are often considered unsuitable for women, and new opportunities because in many contexts, women are not considered a threat in the way men often are, and can therefore gain better access to areas that are normally off-limits to men. However, female reporters covering conflict have specific safety and protection needs and IMS’ work in this area warrants a gender dimension that goes beyond simply ensuring the participation of women in safety and protection activities. The safety and protection needs of both men and women need to be regularly assessed and addressed accordingly, as illustrated in the first-ever study on the safety needs and working conditions of female journalists in Afghanistan, “The Reporting Heroes”, published by the Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee in March 2016 with IMS support. The study highlights that in addition to the risks that all media workers face working in conflict-ridden countries, female journalists are often intimidated and threatened simply because of their profession and gender. Extremist religious groups opposed to women working outside the home are those most commonly responsible for these threats and intimidations against female journalists.
The findings from Afghanistan mirror those of female reporters at a global level. The 2015 Global Media Monitoring Project shows that women are still seriously underrepresented in the media both in the production of news and as news sources. The Monitoring Project found that women make up only 24 per cent of the people covered in newspaper, television and radio news stories.
As the glaring lack of parity in the way men and women access, participate in and are portrayed by media becomes increasingly evident, IMS’ gender approach – whereby we not only promote gender equality within the media, but also media’s contribution to gender equality – comes to the fore.
The two-fold approach is internalised at Zhin Magazine, Iraqi Kurdistan’s first mainstream magazine for women.
“Zhin offers an important step towards real equality. Within two years we’ve managed to increase circulation, profit and advertisement. What we do is appreciated by readers and advertisers alike and our team proves both to society – and certainly also to ourselves – that a magazine produced by and for women can achieve real growth and impact,” says Alaa Latif, Senior Editor of Zhin.
Launched in early 2015, Zhin has published stories on sexual harassment and women escaping Islamic State, which helped put a spotlight on the stigma those women face when they return. Similar efforts have been successful in Jordan, in the conservative region of Ma’an, where The Women’s Network –ten female journalism students – produce stories for a local TV station.
As some of the women from the Women’s Network say: “We have gained a lot of confidence thanks to this network. We feel stronger and we can now ask questions about a lot of topics that we did not even dare to think about before like violence against women and our need to get an education. We can talk about this now without guilt.”
“It has been a sensation here, a revolution. Now women in Ma’an have a voice, and call us to participate in our programmes,” says Mohammad Nasarat, head of the media center in Al Hussein University in Ma’an.