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Standing up for women journalists

25 November 2011

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has highlighted the extreme levels of violence women journalists face while carrying out their professional duties. The IFJ wrote to Ban Ki-Moon, UN General Secretary, to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

The IFJ and NUJ have denounced aggression, threats, political pressure, violence, rape and abuse that women journalists have to face due either to their gender or simply for doing their job.

The situation is made much worse by the prevailing culture of impunity that protects and emboldens the perpetrators of these crimes.

Beth Costa, IFJ General Secretary, said:

"It is even more sobering when we consider that the majority of these crimes remain unsolved, and attackers or killers do not face justice."

Mindy Ran, Chair of the NUJ Equality Council and IFJ Gender Council, said:

"The climate of impunity for crimes against female journalists constitutes a serious threat to the most fundamental of free expression rights. Moreover, there is an on-going concern over the fact that the authorities tend to deny that these women have been killed because of their work as journalists. Instead, they tend to indicate robbery or 'personal issues' as motives of the media killings."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ General Secretary, said:

"The fight for gender equality is a battle not yet won. The National Union of Journalists stands in solidarity with women around the world today to campaign for the elimination of violence against women."

According to United Nations data, up to 70 per cent of women experience violence in their lifetime. Between 40 and 50 percent of women in European Union countries experience unwanted sexual advancements, physical contact or other forms of sexual harassment at their workplace. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than 8,000 cases of sexual violence have been perpetuated yearly in 2009 and 2010.

The IFJ also says that in some regions it is considered a taboo to report sexual assaults, creating a situation where the survivor is being further victimised and made to feel the guilty party. This attitude makes for an effective use of assault to silence and censor.

Among the countries failing to protect women journalists adequately, the IFJ points at Mexico, the Philippines, Somalia, Russia, Nepal and Israel.

The Guardian reports today that a US-Egyptian women writer had her bones broken in both wrists by security officials after being arrested near Tahrir Square.

The IFJ has expressed grave concerns at reports of serious assaults against journalists covering events in the Egyptian crisis in recent days and condemned the arrests and the imprisonment of journalists.

In May this year, the Council of Europe opened a new convention to combat violence against women and domestic violence. It has been signed by 17 countries now, but the UK isn't one of them.

The convention (named CAHVIO) seeks to make sure countries are working towards a new minimum standard on violence against women. This would include; making sure they had a proper framework for protecting and assisting victims, promoting equality between women and men, and supporting law enforcement and international co-operation on eliminating violence against women.

The UK shouldn't have any problem in signing up to its principles, but by not doing so, the government is weakening the hand of others in countries where a strong convention could start to address major problems in the handling of violence against women and domestic violence.

The UK has a double responsibility at the moment. Earlier this month, the country took over as chair of the Council of Europe for a six month term. At the time, the government promised to use the position to focus on promoting human rights. Yet not signing the CAHVIO convention gives the impression that violence against women is not a priority issue, at home or internationally.

TUC Guide to Equality Law 2011

Tags: , russia, violence, somalia, violence against women, mexico, impunity, israel, philippines, women, nepal