Call for Feminist Solidarity to Ensure Safety and Protection of Female Journalists

Female Syrian journalists face many risks in the course of their work, and suffer gender-based discrimination in the workplace. In order to mitigate these risks through the implementation of programs related to the safety and security of journalists, the Syrian Female Journalists Network (SFJN) held a panel discussion entitled Protection and Safety of Female Journalists and the Challenges Facing Their Progress as part of its annual conference held in Istanbul, Turkey, in June 2019.

The session was moderated by Lama Rajeh, Program Director at SFJN, with speakers including Zeina Ibrahim (freelance journalist), Rama Deeb (independent journalist and program presenter), Bushra Al Dakheel (security and protection coordinator at SFJN), later joined by Maissa Al Mahmoud (journalist and trainer within SFJN).

Lack of Job Security, and Harassment in the Workplace

The session focused on the most significant challenges facing Syrian female journalists today. The experiences of the female journalists participating in the panel discussion demonstrated that the most important of these challenges is the lack of job security in media organizations, due to several factors such as conditions of displacement and work without an employment contract, which deprives the journalist of end of service benefits, as well as the multiplicity of employment tasks. Zeina Ibrahim and Rama Deeb both stressed the absence of any sense of job security within Syrian media organizations. They considered this burden to be compounded for female journalists, compared to their male peers, due to women’s responsibilities inside and outside the home, especially in the absence of contracts that guarantee their rights and grant them a sense of safety within the organization.

Harassment in the workplace is at the top of the obstacles that hinder female journalists. According to Bushra Al Dakheel (SFJN security and protection coordinator), female journalists face daily challenges such as: “harassment in the workplace, cyberbullying and gender-based discrimination, especially in the process of hiring between male and female journalists, which are often limited to the external appearances of the female journalist and her ideological orientation, overlooking her experience.”

Rama Deeb emphasized the miserable reality of sexual harassment to which female journalists are often exposed in media organizations. She shared the details of her own experience working in one media organization, noting the importance of not keeping silent about sexual violations that female journalists may face, and the need to expose the harasser. Rama noted that, “The first problem facing a female journalist in the workplace is reflected in the reaction of the administration of ‘go and stay home’, male authority in the workplace, and discrimination based on the style of dress and appearance of women, which affects job opportunities for female journalists.”

Cyber​​bullying and Objectification of the Work of Female Journalists

The phenomena of cyberbullying and objectification of female journalists pose additional challenges in the lives of Syrian female journalists. Zeina explained that there is an increase in the “objectification of female journalists, especially in audiovisual media, where the selection of broadcasters is based on their physical appearance and not experience or professionalism.” As for cyberbullying, Zeina shared her suffering while working with the outlet Tele Orient, and the media organization’s inability to provide protection for male or female journalists. “Harassment is a global phenomenon for female journalists in all countries of the world. However, the difference between us as Syrian female journalists and female journalists in other countries, is that they can speak out, break the barrier, and there are laws that protects their rights.” Zeina continues to explain the obstacles in the way of female journalists who wish to share their experiences with harassment and bullying: “Today, I am unable to say that I was harassed in a masculine environment, and in the midst of tribalistic social networking platforms, which could open the door to a war on Facebook against me, rendering me the target of blame. Emphasis should be placed on the protection and digital security of female journalists to protect their privacy from hacking.” In her statement, journalist Rama Deeb echoed this by saying, “Most media organizations today do not follow policies concerning digital security and information protection.”

The Dangers of Field Coverage for Female Journalists

Syrian female journalists face many dangers, such as the threats that Maissa Al Mahmoud (now residing in the city of Afrin) faced by some extremist groups as a result of her work as a journalist. Maissa explains that the risk of not having internal policies within media organizations providing protection to male and female journalists, or guidance on how to deal with the threats they may face in the field.

Maissa pointed to the urgent need within Syria to raise awareness of the importance of journalistic work, guide media programming towards changing the stereotypes of women’s work, emphasize gender equality within media organizations and provide a security and safety policy for journalists working in areas controlled by the radical factions. She also stressed the total lack of personal security in Syria, citing her own experience: “I was personally subjected to cyberbullying, cyber attacks, direct threats and several abduction attempts. Today, not a single entity endorses the protection and support of female and male journalists in an effective manner. Today, the perception is that female journalists belong in the home, and that field coverage does not suit them, but I still encourage female journalists in Syria to pursue field coverage.”

In order to deal with the various challenges and dangers faced by female journalists, Bushra Al Dakheel provided a brief overview of the emergency services provided by the Syrian Female Journalists Network, and means of contacting the organization: “We have already provided urgent support for several cases of evacuation of female journalists from Syria. Female journalists can contact us in case of exposure to any danger in the field, or risks associated with digital security, and we follow up directly with them.” She also referred to the Network’s efforts in providing consultation services to media organizations to develop gender-sensitive protection policies.

Call for Feminist Solidarity

After the journalists presented their varied experiences, discussions were held between representatives of media organizations and civil society organizations on how to progress in developing ways of protecting female journalists. The attendees reached several proposals, the most important of which are: First, to increase coordination between the Syrian media organizations to reach gender-sensitive policies, and to establish a formal association representing journalists to address their grievances and improve their status in media organization. Second, to provide training for female journalists on digital protection and security, and dealing with potential risks. Thirdly, to form an information body to monitor and evaluate media content, making sure that it is fair and does not include stereotypical representations of women. Fourth, to follow-up and ensure the existence and implementation of policies on gender equality, the elimination of sexual harassment in media organizations, in addition to clear and safe mechanisms of reporting incidents of discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Fifth, to show solidarity with female journalists and encourage them to break the silence on harassment and report it directly. Sixth, a code of conduct should be prepared to improve the status of women working in media organizations, and to improve the depiction of women in media. It should be noted that the Syrian Female Journalists Network has already prepared a code of conduct to improve women’s representation in the media.