Commission on the Status of Women highlights need for women in the media

The revolution in information and communications technologies has provided unprecedented opportunities to communicate across continents and cultures yet there remain disparities as to the extent in which access and skills are available to women and girls.

“Access to information and communications technologies and a free and independent media: effective means to contribute to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls,” was the theme of a side event during the 58th session of the Commission on the Status on Women (CSW) at the United Nations co-sponsored by UNESCO and the Permanent Mission of Austria.   The discussion highlighted the urgency to empower women and girls through access to ICTs as well as promoting an environment for a free and independent media that can provide information without fear of attack or reprisal.

“We cannot discuss access to ICTs without talking about the importance of free and independent media; they are the other side of the same coin,” said H.E. Martin Sajdik, Permanent Representative of Austria to the UN.  “The role of good governance and effective institutions, including freedom of speech and access to independent media and information for achieving sustainable development has often been highlighted, including in our discussions in the OWG (Open Working Group) on SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

At the core of promoting an environment for a free and independent media is of course the ability of journalists and media workers to perform their work without fear of attack or reprisals.”

“We stand less than 700 days away from 2015, at a time when every Government is seeking new sources of dynamism, to catalyse progress. Today, we meet to explore one of the most powerful accelerators we have – these are information and communication technologies,” said Director-General Irina Bokova, adding, “To be most empowering, ICTs must stand on two pillars. First, they must be inclusive, bridging divides, not deepening them. Second, they must be underpinned by respect for human rights and dignity.”

The Government of Austria supported the first results of the first global survey on safety of women journalists, titled “Violence and harassment against women in the news media: a global picture” which was a collaboration of the International News Safety Institute (INSI) and the International Women’s Media Foundation, (IWMF) in collaboration with UNESCO.  Elisa Lees Munoz, Executive Director of the IWMF presented the results of the survey and noted that almost two-thirds of women journalists have experienced intimidation, threats or abuse in relation to their work, according to the findings of the first global survey into violence and threats against women working in the news media.  Moreover, she said, the survey also found that the majority of women who are harassed do not report what has happened to them, despite the fact that more than half of them confirmed that the experience had a psychological impact on them.

Bokova noted that according to UNESCO, 33 women journalists and media workers were killed between 2006 and 2013.  “This represents 6 percent of all journalists killed, and, we know, women journalists face many other threats, of from threat, intimidation and violence, including sexual abuse.  This simply cannot stand. As the UN agency mandated to promote freedom of expression and press freedom, I stand up every time a journalist is killed and call for justice.

The event counted with the participation of some 180 participants, among them representatives of Member States as well as NGOs and media. In addition to Bokova and Ambassador Sajdik,  , Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, UN Under-Secretary General fo Public Information, Anne Bennet, Hirondelle USA, Elisa Lees Munoz, International Women's Media Foundation, IWMF and Pamela Falk, President of the UN Correspondents Association and correspondent for CBS network also participated in the panel discussion which was moderated by S. Gulsar Corat, Director, Division for Gender Equality, UNESCO.

Launsky-Tieffenthal, discussed the work of UN DPI using media to empower women and provide information in countries in transition from conflicts.

“The department of public information is trying tries to communicate the ideals and work of the United Nations across the world by providing support for peace, development human rights.   None of those goals would be achievable if it weren’t for the empowerment of women and girls, they go hand in hand with the advancement of those three goals,” said Launsky-Tieffenthal.   He highlighted the work of UN DPI in peace keeping mission where it has supported the development of media in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Cote D’Ivoire,  “ that have suffered through brutal conflict and ethnic divisions such. “ adding that  “In these countries the United Nations provides what is often the first and only reliable media outlet providing the public with the first source they can trust to accurately and fairly cover the news.”

One example is Radio Okapi in the DRC that was co-founded with Irondale Foundation in 2002. “The station operates in an extremely fragile environment and yet consistently delivers an independent, professional and credible source of information.

The role of radio as a vital media outlet for women was highlighted by Anne Bennett, Executive Director of Hirondelle Foundation USA, a non-profit organization that helps build and sustain independent media in post-conflict and transitioning countries through a partnership with the Swiss NGO Foundation Hirondelle. At the same time, Bennett said more has to be done to support women in broadcasting and provide an environment where they can develop professionally.

“We should support women’s professional associations as agencies for training, collaboration, and advocacy, and should invest in university level programs that offer theory and hands on training, interdisciplinary collaboration, and exchange at the regional level,” she said adding “Newsrooms should mirror society in its diversity: across gender, religion, tribe and ethnicity. Editors and media managers should foster collegiality inside the radio, and ensure that men and women are heard equally both in the editorial meetings and on the airwaves.

Media, on SW, FM or on a mobile phone via Bluetooth, has the power to transform not just the women who work in the media but the many, many more who are in the audience. Understanding what they want, what they listen to, what information they hunger for and need in their lives is at the core of our work as broadcasters.”

As a working journalist Pamela Falk is well acquainted with the threats to women and commended the undertaking of a global survey that provides data on the nature and scope of threats.

She summed up her views with an adage, “information is power,” she said. “And based on this report information is also protection.”