UNESCO Dakar celebrates World Press Freedom Day with West Africa Democracy Radio Highlighting Women, Peace, and Security in the Media

“A society without media is a dying society” affirmed the president of the African Federation of Journalists Mr. Abdulwaheed Odusile, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.

25 years ago in the newly independent Namibia, the historic Windhoek Declaration on Press Freedom was adopted, paving the way to recognition by the United Nations of World Press Freedom Day. On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, celebrated on May 3rd 2016 around the theme “Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms, This is your Right!” the UNESCO Regional Office for West Africa (Sahel), in collaboration with OHCHR’s Regional Office for West Africa, the prestigious West African School of Journalism CESTI in Dakar and Professor Eugenie Aw, and West Africa Democracy Radio, organized a live debate centered around the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity. Featuring voices of women journalists and women media professionals in the field from Gambia, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, and Guinea Conakry, the debate focused on women media professionals in conflict and crisis situations.

Celebrations this year highlighted the importance of free and independent journalism for advancing the 2030 Agenda, and The UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel that emphasizes governance, resilience, and security. This includes the safety of journalists, at a time when, tragically, a media professional is killed every five days. This cannot stand, and guided by the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, UNESCO and OHCHR are working with Governments in the Sahel Region to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers.

Against this background, the Celebration underlined the links between press freedom, a culture of openness and the right to freedom of information, and sustainable development in the digital age, underlining that the common thread in all these is the role of journalism, and the importance of safeguarding those who bring this service to the public.

Despite underrepresentation in newsroom staff in terms of assignments, positions, and career development opportunities, women media professionals continue to play a crucial role in ensuring this fundamental right of access to information, particularly in situations of conflict and insecurity, and play equally important roles in promoting peace and security.

Furthermore, women journalists often face specific challenges while exercising their profession in the field in circumstances of crisis and conflict. The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists underlines the need for a human rights based and gender sensitive approach. It also calls for the involvement of the Special Rapporteur for Violence against Women.

Article 1.17 in the plan underlines that "Female journalists also face increasing dangers, highlighting the need for a gender-sensitive approach. In carrying out their professional duties, they often risk sexual assault, whether in the form of a targeted sexual violation, often in reprisal for their work; mob-related sexual violence aimed against journalists covering public events; or the sexual abuse of journalists in detention or captivity. Furthermore, many of these crimes are not reported as a result of powerful cultural and professional stigmas. "

In the framework of the regional celebration of World Press Freedom Day, WADR, with OHCHR, UNESCO, AFJ, and renowned media specialist and professor Eugenie Aw Ndiaye:

  1. Highlighted, through testimonies of women media professionals from West and Central Africa in zones of crisis and conflict, the important roles women media professionals play in promoting peace and security in their countries;
  2. Discussed the issue of the safety of journalists, and challenges faced particularly by women media professionals;
  3. Shared existing best practices on the Continent.

Testimonies of women in the field addressed gender specific challenges related to reporting during political crises related to elections and post-election violence, health crises such as Ebola in Liberia, reporting on female genital mutilation, and challenges of imprisonment while pregnant and breastfeeding.

The aim of the radio show was to raise awareness on the issue of gender equality in the media and on the value of women in the media world, often harassed or stigmatized because of the type of job they perform and continuing socio-cultural stigma related to women occupying posts in the public sphere.

UNESCO presented the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, underlining its fundamental role in promoting prompt action to protect and safeguard media professionals in both conflict and non-conflict zones.

“The UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the issue of Impunity is based on three pillars: public awareness and advocacy, training and policy” highlighted Madame Sasha Rubel Diamanka, Regional Advisor for Communication and Information at UNESCO Dakar.

The need for further training and capacity building of journalists and Government on security issues was further emphasized during the radio show by both Madame Eugenie Aw, journalist and former president of the School of Journalism in Dakar, CESTI, and Madame Rubel Diamanka from UNESCO; “Training and further capacity development of media professionals and journalists, with an emphasis on a gender sensitive approach - outlined in the gender sensitive indicators for media, as UNESCO underlined, are key to ensure good quality journalism and information, freedom of expression and the protection of human rights” Madame Aw stated.

Addressing human rights violation and the issue of impunity, Madame Caroline Ouaffo Wafang, Gender Advisor at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Regional Office for West Africa, highlighted that “a system to cross-check information with family members of the victim and strong cooperation with institutions, military and police is important to ensure that violations do not occur and prompt actions can effectively take place to prevent them.”

In this regard, UNESCO highlighted existing best practices concerning training and capacity building activities, not only benefiting journalists, but also military, security forces and police in countries, to ensure collaboration and protection. “Senegal is strong in protecting freedom of expression and press freedom for journalists” added Mr. Macki Diallo, Chief of Communication of the UNESCO National Commission for Senegal, part of the radio show.

As a capacity building resource, UNESCO highlighted the recently launched mobile App on freedom of expression developed by Naresuan University with UNESCO Bangkok. The mobile application is now available in the iPhone App Store and Google Play as a free resource for all those who want to better understand what free speech is, why it matters, what are the limits and what each of us can do to protect and defend it.

Ending on a positive note and inspiration for further concrete actions and cooperation in the near future and in order to address current challenges related to cyber harassment and cyberbullying of women media professionals, both UNESCO and CESTI placed a strong emphasis on the importance of creating women networks of media professionals in the Sahel. “Women’s solidarity is particularly important as it gives the opportunity to every woman to speak up, have their voices heard, and take action” Madame Aw highlighted. “To create an environment free of fear, remember that you are not alone, and we stand together” Madame Rubel Diamanka stated as a powerful message to inspire women media professionals in the Region.

To listen to the two radio broadcasting shows, check the WADR link here: 

https://soundcloud.com/westafricademocracyradio/debat-journee-inter-de-la-presse-05-03-16

https://soundcloud.com/westafricademocracyradio/special-discussion-world-press-freedom-day-wadr-unesco

For additional information on World Press Freedom Day, check:

http://en.unesco.org/world-press-freedom-day-2016

http://www.westafrica.ohchr.org/

http://cesti.ucad.sn/

http://www.wadr.org/