Women Journalist Journal | Stories of Gender Justice from Women Journalists across the Asia-Pacific

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Stories of Gender Justice from Women Journalists across the Asia-Pacific Region

Stories of Gender Justice from Women Journalists across the Asia-Pacific Region

This Journal is dedicated to Sophia Huang Xueqin.

The views expressed in this journal are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of UN Women or any of its affiliated organisations. This is not an official document of the United Nations, and the contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the UN Women Regional Office for Asia Pacific and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

UN Women wish to acknowledge the valuable contributions of the journalists, technical experts and UN Women staff who have contributed to the production and adaptation of the journal. This journal was edited by Ms. Fanny Arendt, Access to Justice, UN Women Regional Office for Asia Pacific.

This publication was developed under the “Enhancing Access to Justice for Women in Asia and the Pacific: Bridging the gap between formal and informal systems through women’s empowerment” programme with generous support from the Government of Sweden. The programme is jointly implemented by UN Women, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

© Copyright 2022, United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment (UN Women). This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part and in any form for educational or non-profit purposes without special permission from the copyright holder, provided acknowledgement of the source is made. UN Women would appreciate receiving a copy of any publication that uses this publication as a source by email via info.bangkok@unwomen.org

Cover and back cover photos: © ziedaypict / Shutterstock.com


This Journal tells the personal stories of ten women journalists from across the Asia and Pacific region. Their stories reflect what it means being a woman journalist in the region today, what it is like reporting on gender and justice issues from their countries, and the barriers they have overcome.

Among deeply personal stories, you will read about how an online hate campaign against one woman journalist almost stopped her from writing, how another is tackling patriarchal mindsets in the media industry, and the social consequences another faced when her investigative reporting uncovered deeply entrenched gender stereotypes. Altogether, the journalists are demonstrating that journalism is more than a job – it is a calling.

While the contributors to this Journal are from different backgrounds and have unique experiences, they all emphasize the need for greater support of women in the media industry. This Journal supports the next generation of women journalists standing up for just and equitable societies.

Each article is complemented by a knowledge piece that provides data and research related to the journalists’ stories. The Journal concludes with recommendations of how to support women journalists in the Asia and the Pacific region.

“Through the tip of their pen, women journalists have the power to draw policymakers’ and other influential actors’ attention to women’s rights. Women journalists are powerful journalists, and they, together with their male journalist allies, are on the front line in the fight for gender equality.” – Betty Herlina Anwar, Indonesia Journalist.


In the words of Swedish journalist and foreign correspondent, Terese


At last, I came to the remote house in southern Iraq. The year was 2007. Powerful, mostly criminal men were about to gather for a secret meeting we had struggled to attend for a long time. I was extremely excited to listen; we were promised exclusive insight into how oil was smuggled out of Iraq during the war with the United States.

When we entered the house and I was on my way into the meeting room, the host looked at me and pointed to another, smaller room. It was where his wives and daughters were and where my food would be served. I was terribly angry and humiliated. The fact that I was a woman meant that I would miss the conversation

between the men and, of course, miss asking the questions that were so important to me and my readers. My irritation was justified; I was there in my professional role as a journalist and so should have been let in.

As a small feminist mini-protest, I handed out some children’s books in Arabic about the Swedish revolutionary girl, Pippi Longstocking. I hoped that the daughters would learn some of her courage.

The report on oil smuggling was eventually published, but I felt like a failure. I had been so angry that day that I missed the real opportunity: to interview the wives. The

Terese Cristiansson is a senior Swedish Journalist and Foreign Correspondent who has covered civil unrests and conflicts from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

meeting with them was even more exclusive than with the men; I lost the momentum because of my pride and anger.

There were excuses. I only had a male interpreter, and he sat with the men, and my limited Arabic meant that our conversation only revolved around the fish we ate. I had not been prepared for the situation at all, but I should have solved it.

It became an important lesson. In the years that followed, I have worked with women interpreters and colleagues as much as possible. In my experience, I have come to learn that women tell the truth more often and that readers want to hear women’s voices.

At the end of last year, I was asked to select highlights of my reporting in 2021. I flipped through everything I had done: a visit to Iran to see how the US election of Joe Biden would affect the Middle East; the protests in Iraq; the impact of the pandemic on women in Africa; Turkey’s departure from the Istanbul Convention; and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. My eventual selection was several reports about women from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Uganda. All of the women had stood up against injustice, risked their lives, and had become the voice of thousands of women. A little revenge for the opportunity I missed 16 years ago.

Sometimes we must put our pride aside to get to the story that is important. And, sometimes we shouldn’t — we should

always fight to get the same rights as our male colleagues. When a Taliban member says that I can only interview him if there is no picture of us together, I accept, but I will also include the detail in my report. When an ultra-Orthodox in Israeli asks me to stand behind the interpreter so that he does not have to look at me, I accept, but I will write about it. I can accept because I have the luxury of the choice to be in that situation. I know I will leave at some point; not everyone has that opportunity.

This brings me to the most important and the most difficult part of my job: to see how differently I have been treated compared to the women journalists who work in their own country. I constantly see that my behaviour is excused because I “do not understand the culture,” while local woman journalists have to endure much harsher words and treatment, including hatred, smear campaigns and even bans. It is not fair, and it is dangerous for women journalists and for freedom of speech. This is where we stand together.

The most important thing is not that my international colleagues and I can go abroad and report. The most important is that women journalists can exercise their enormous ability to understand the culture, language and ability to find sources to report from their home countries. When that can be done in an equal and safe environment, incredible voices will be heard. A local woman journalist would not have failed to interview the wives of powerful oil smugglers; I’m sure secrets would have been revealed.


Table of contents 12 16 21 24 28


Press as a Pillar of Democracy

In the words of Indonesian journalist, Betty Herlina Anwar

How media can change public perception

In the words of Sri Lankan journalist, Nirasha Piyawadani


Cybersecurity, gender and journalism

In the words of Filipina journalist, Regina Cabato

Women’s voices in peace and security In the words of Afghan Journalist, Zuhal Ahad

Women journalists for social justice

In the words of Soraya Kishtwari, a Journalist formerly based in Vietnam


National security laws and women journalists

In the words of Filipina journalists, Celine Isabelle Samson


Patriarchal mindsets silencing women journalists

In the words of Bangladeshi journalist, Banani Mallick


Maintaining the civic space through journalism

In the words of Indian journalist, Siddhi Shah


Investigative reporting by women journalists

In the words of Bangladeshi journalist, Ruhina Ferdous

Safety of women in public and private domains

In the words of Pakistani journalist, Lubna Jerar Naqvi


PAKISTAN 32 36 41 44 48

Press as a pillar of democracy

A free press plays an essential role in democratic societies — it holds governments to account, highlights injustice and abuse of power and enables societies to be informed and engaged in the decisions and policies that affect them.

Democracy is one of the United Nations’ universal core values and principles. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, are essential elements of democracy. These values are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further developed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which enshrines the political rights and civil liberties that underpin meaningful democracies.

Reporters without Borders have raised the alarm for journalists and democracy in the Asia Pacific region. The region incarcerates the most journalists in the world and includes the world’s deadliest countries for journalists and media workers.1

1 https://rsf.org/en/asia-pacific?nl=ok

From RSF Reporters Without Borders https://rsf.org/en/ranking


In the words of Indonesian journalist, Betty Herlina Anwar

The long road to journalism free of gender bias


It took me a decade to grow from a journalist who supported patriarchal views to a journalist who promotes gender perspectives and women’s empowerment.

In my first years as a journalist, I wrote a story about a male state official who had an affair that ruined his marriage and reputation. My reporting treated him as someone who had been faithful to his wife and who only had a change of heart after meeting the mistress. In contrast, my reporting portrayed the mistress negatively — as someone who had broken up a family.

Looking back with my current perspective, I realize that I had held men and women to different standards. I regarded men as logical beings who have the freedom to choose any action and get their way with it. I considered women as the perpetrators of infidelity, who act without logical reason.

Looking back and seeing myself at that time — while recognizing that I am also a woman — has buried me in deep self-disappointment. Society has held men and women to different standards. If I had to point fingers at whom or what was at fault for how I shaped and wrote stories, it would be the environment I grew up in. I was raised with values that always serve men’s interests and with the belief that women are weak.

Ten years into my career, I joined a journalist organization and began to see things differently. I interacted with many other women journalists, feminists and victims of the patriarchy. I began to see that the media

must be held accountable for perpetuating the patriarchy, which has disadvantaged women in many ways. I learned that the road to a society free of gender bias is full of hurdles. I also learned that as a journalist, I could do something about it.

In Indonesia, it is said that the press is the fourth pillar of democracy. Adding to that, Law No. 40/1999 on the Press states that the press serves as a medium for information, education, entertainment and social control. Thus, the media needs to be impartial in its reporting.

Mass media has a great role to play in challenging the status quo. For example, before deploying new reporters to the field, media companies should train and equip them with the necessary understanding of women’s rights and should encourage journalists to incorporate gendersensitive perspectives into their work. The media should use more female sources when writing news, appreciate women’s achievements irrespective of their physical appearance and should not portray women in sexist perspectives. Furthermore, the male-dominated media industry must commit to reforming itself towards gender equality and diversity.

Through the tip of their pen, women journalists have the power to draw policymakers’ and other influential actors’ attention to women’s rights. Women journalists are powerful journalists, and they, together with their male journalist allies, are on the front line in the fight for gender equality.


How the media can change public perception


The media industry is a reflection of society and its different communities. Because it plays an important role in shaping opinions and values, journalists have the power to contribute to positive social norms change. For the LGBTQI+ community, fair and accurate reporting on their lives and experiences is an important step towards realizing LGBTQI+ people’s rights.

People who believe that same-sex marriage is inevitable

People who disagreed

A 2019 survey by The Economist found that 45% of respondents in the AsiaPacific region believe that same-sex marriage is inevitable in the region, while 31 per cent of respondents disagreed.3


Since the 1980s, the average level of acceptance of LGBTQI+ communities has steadily increased across the globe There is a strong link between increasing mass support for minority rights, such as LGBTQI+ communities, and the factors that encourage and allow minorities to express their viewpoints to others.2 Journalists reporting through a lens of intersectionality have an opportunity to reduce stigma, discrimination and harmful practices against LGBTQI+ people.

Positive public perception about the LGBTQI+ community garnered through intersectional journalism is an important step, which must be accompanied by laws and policies that promote and protect their rights.



Being an LGBTQI+ person is only legal in 28 out of 49 states in the Asia-Pacific region. Without legal change on the acceptance and protection of LGBTQI+ people, they will continue to face stigma, exclusion and human rights abuses.



3 https://impact.economist.com/perspectives/sites/default/files/pride_and_ prejudice_year_four_report_-_assessing_progress_in_apac.pdf

45% 31%

In the words of Sri Lankan journalist, Nirasha Piyawadani

They will think you’re a lesbian because you’re not married

“Oh, I cannot come to present the programme today. Guys will bully me, call me a butterfly. They will think you’re a lesbian because you’re not married.”

The male journalist and I had planned to jointly conduct a live interview of a social activist who speaks out on behalf of the LGBTQI+ community. Although the interview was structured around including both our perspectives, I had to do it myself after he refused to take part in the programme.

When he told me he could no longer be part of the programme, I was shocked, especially as there were only a few minutes left before the programme was supposed to be aired. With very little time, I had to prepare to be the sole lead for a programme that was designed to be presented by two people.

When I met with the male journalist just one week before the live show, he showed much interest in the research I had done on the transgender community and election-related stories. I told him about how transgender people face harassment at the poll because

their physical appearance often differs from their appearance on their National Identity Card photo and that my research had shown that this situation led many transgender people to abstain from voting for years. We decided to discuss this harassment and the solutions the LGBTQI+ community is looking for to curb these tendencies during the live talk show.

Enabling LGBTQI+ voices to be heard is gaining increasing attention in Sri Lanka, including among young journalists and mainstream media institutions. However, journalists are still exposed to the possibility of social stigma when reporting on the LGBTQI+ community, just as they are when reporting on groups such as sex workers and other marginalized communities. This outlook prevails because there is no proper education on what marginalized communities are, how they are treated in society or how their human rights are being violated.

I can understand where my colleague’s hesitation to take part in the interview came from. He grew up in a society that ridiculed the LGBTQI+ community. He was afraid of taking


the voice of the transgender community to the media because of the reaction society might have. He, and many others like him, reflect the sociocultural background of the country that nurtured him to have narrowminded ideas and negative attitudes.

This is not the first time I confronted such a situation when reporting on gender and justice issues; I encountered a similar situation in 2016 while researching sex workers’ HIV-related health issues.

I was meeting with a woman who used to be a sex worker. She did not want to be interviewed in her neighbourhood because the owners of her house and her neighbours were unaware of her past, and she wanted to keep it that way. So I invited her to my house instead.

A close relation of mine said — with great hatred — that I had recognized, associated with, and invited to my home a sex worker, not because I was a journalist but because he suspected that I was also

involved in the profession. His opinion was bolstered by the fact that I speak positively of the view that sex work should be legalized.

I tried to explain to him that I think legalizing sex work is good because it protects the basic human rights of sex workers and gives them control over the social injustices and health problems they face. He still continued insulting me.

Despite these experiences, I do think that Sri Lanka has a bright future ahead. With commitments and efforts put forth by organizations and activists, the country is gradually embracing marginalized communities. There are also government attempts to incorporate human rights education into the education system.

Some will ask whether such education will result in journalists becoming human rights activists. I would answer “yes,” because at least indirectly, journalists are human rights defenders with a professional responsibility to report on human rights abuses.


Cybersecurity, gender and journalism


The use of Pegasus spy software4 to illegally undermine the rights of those under surveillance, including journalists, has brought to light the potential misuse of technology and the need for stronger cybersecurity frameworks. Surveillance software has been linked to the arrest, intimidation and killing of journalists and human rights defenders, causing journalists and ordinary citizens alike to self-censor.

714 women

73% had experienced online violence in the course of their work

714 women journalists from 125 countries, conducted by UNESCO and the International Center for Journalists5


Impunity for killing journalists remains a serious concern. Since 2006, only 13% of such cases recorded by UNESCO are considered judicially resolved.5

“With technology and social media, women are targeted” Maria Ressa, Philippine journalist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate (2021).

Over the past 15 years, there has been a marked increase in cyber harassment, making the safety of women journalists a major issue for reporting in today’s digital era.

National protection mechanisms, with specific elements to address gender-based threats, are critical for the safety of women journalists. United Nations Member States are increasingly adopting national action plans and other initiatives on journalist safety; these mechanisms and plans should be developed with the participation of women journalists.

“Journalists and human rights defenders play an indispensable role in our societies, and when they are silenced, we all suffer”

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

4 Pegasus is the hacking software – or spyware – which is used to infiltrate and collect information from devices.

5 https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000379826)


In the words of Filipina journalist, Regina Cabato

Without cybersecurity and women journalists, the truth is patient zero

I deactivated my Facebook account for the first time in around ten years last June. There was no love lost; it had long been a toxic environment. The last straw was a string of harmful events: a hacking scare, a data breach, harassment campaigns and an influx of unsolicited friend requests from strangers.

Almost all the friend requests came from men with whom I did not share any mutual

friends. No amount of privacy controls could stop the notifications, and I received 700 requests in four days. Topping it off, I got a notification that my credit card had been used to purchase $200 of Facebook advertisements.

I live and work in the Philippines. Like many of my colleagues, I have found myself on the receiving end of coordinated attacks.


I have experienced two hate campaigns over the course of the pandemic, one triggered by a report I wrote on a Twitter takedown of inauthentic accounts and the other because of my tweet about hospitals in Manila reaching full capacity. Bloggerpropagandists and their followers flooded me with spam and tagged me in threats.

The Philippines is consistently listed as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Recent developments have sunk its press freedom ranking even more; a major broadcaster was shut down, and a barrage of cases have been filed against Nobel Peace Prize winning-journalist Maria Ressa.

Academics studying the digitization of harassment in the Philippines found that harassment and attacks of journalists often began “when a prominent government official publicly speaks against a woman… followed by high-profile social media influencers and pseudo-bloggers… followed by the activation of an army of trolls spewing copy-pasted negative messages, followed by organic users jumping into a bandwagon of hate.”

According to a Pulse Asia estimate, almost 99 per cent of the online Philippine population uses Facebook. As one of the top sources of information in the country, the spread of disinformation and misinformation on the platform has been credited with helping people secure power. The proliferation of troll farms and influencers peddling propaganda has made the country the post-truth era’s patient zero.

While on- and offline harassment does not exclusively affect women, there is a worrying trend of people espousing misogynistic hate towards women media professionals. Online attacks against women are particularly vile. They tend to take on a sexual nature or gendered cursing, like when journalists are called ‘presstitutes’. Human rights advocates, analysts and journalists alike have called on social media platforms to step up and double down on disinformation and hate speech against women.

Within three months of quitting Facebook, I was back on it. Facebook was the gatekeeper to my career. Every time I opened the site to attend a live-streamed press conference or read a politician’s statement, a pop-up would tell me I had to reactivate my account. Sources were still reaching out to me through my main profile. It was impossible to operate as a journalist in the Philippines without Facebook.

With elections around the corner and after bombshell revelations from the Facebook papers, the time for band-aid responses is over. After my experience of online attacks, I could not help but find the old advice to ignore, block and report trolls to be inconvenient and outdated. There are just too many of them, and as time passes, they find new ways to game the system. There must be accountability.

I refuse to resign myself to a future where women journalists being harassed and attacked is the norm.


Women’s voices in peace and security

Taliban takes control of Afghanistan on 15 August 2021’

“You are a privately-owned radio station. You can continue, but without any woman’s voice and without music.”  Taliban representative to a woman journalist working for a radio station, two days after the Taliban took control.

72% of journalists who lost their jobs are women

23 NOVEMBER 2021

Taliban banned women actors from appearing in television dramas.

Despite Taliban assurances that press freedom would be respected and women journalists would be allowed to keep working, a new media landscape is emerging from which women are missing.

After 15 August 2021, only 20 out of 114 newspapers continued to publish; 51 TV stations, 132 radio stations and 49 online media outlets ceased operations; and 72 per cent of journalists who lost their jobs are women. (International Federation of Journalists).

Less than 14 per cent (100 out of 700) of women journalists are still formally working in privately-owned radio and TV stations in Kabul. (Reporters Without Borders).

Women journalists that remain in the country have been barred from working, and those covering women’s protests in Kabul report being attacked, detained and threatened by the Taliban.

On 23 November 2021, the Taliban banned women actors from appearing in television dramas.

The absence of women from the media landscape risks having a chilling effect — erasing women from the public eye and normalising men’s dominance in certain professions.


In the words of Afghan Journalist, Zuhal Ahad

What does it mean to be a woman and a journalist in Afghanistan?

Afghanistan is one of the worst countries to be a woman — and the worst country to be a woman journalist. Although women make up only a small percentage of journalists working in Afghanistan, women represent 50 per cent of the journalists murdered there. Despite knowing that their job has long put them at risk of being targeted, kidnapped or killed, women journalists in Afghanistan continue to work to get the voices of the Afghan people out.

With the Taliban’s August 2021 return, the situation for journalists got worse and more brutal. Many well-known women journalists escaped from the country—those who remained and continued working live in an unimaginably bad situation. Almost immediately, the Taliban enforced restrictions on women. Palwasha (a pseudonym), who worked as an anchor with state TV, says she went to her job a week after the Taliban takeover but was sent home while her male colleagues were allowed to continue working. “I don’t have any hope for my future; we returned to zero after 20 years,” she said.

Many journalists who covered womenrelated events after the Taliban takeover have been tortured. In September 2021, several journalists filming and reporting on a women’s demonstration in Kabul were detained and brutally beaten. Nemat Naqdi, a reporter for a local daily newspaper, told me that three angry Taliban members took him and his colleagues to a dark room in a police station and brutally beat him. “They asked us to promise not to film such events anymore,” said Nemat.

During the past three years, I have primarily reported on the gendered impacts of the war and on women’s human rights, inequality and violence against women. In doing so, I have faced threats and harassment. In response to my profiling of the first-ever street concert given by a female singer, I was accused of

spreading debauchery and depravity among society. Likewise, after I wrote about women and men doing yoga in the mountains to celebrate International Yoga Day, a number of religious men called me to say, “you are cursed.” They fixated on one image that they called “sexy” because the bodies of the women were visible.

Furthermore, the overwhelmingly male dominance that permeates Afghanistan makes reporting on women’s rights and gender equality challenging. Beyond the sociocultural barriers that women reporters face in the newsroom and in the field, it is very difficult to find and convince women to share their stories. Although we assure women that their identities won’t be revealed, many are hesitant because they were not allowed to talk about the problems they face.

Some of the most important achievements of the past 20 years in Afghanistan have been in the areas of freedom of speech, a proliferation of public and private media platforms, and women’s rights. Most of these achievements were lost after the Taliban retook control. Now, people are fighting for pieces of bread, let alone such basic rights. A woman’s place in Afghanistan has returned to a silent place, without education, without work and without a voice.

The Taliban, known for oppressing women and the media, have placed many restrictions on journalists, making access to impartial information impossible. For now, journalists everywhere must do their best to report on the stories and the life situation of women in Afghanistan. Afghan women are resilient and have proven time and time again that they will fight for their rights. Afghan women journalists will continue to raise the voices of the oppressed and will one day be back to running newsrooms and media outlets in Afghanistan.


Women journalists for social justice

In 2020, 67% of countries around the world experienced declines in equal treatment and the absence of discrimination, according to the World Justice Project Index.6

As subjects and sources in stories on social and legal issues, women are repeatedly underrepresented. In Asia, women are subjects or sources in only 24% of stories related to social and legal issues.7

Women journalists are more likely than their male counterparts to include women as sources in new stories. Globally, there is a consistent 5-7% gap between women and men reporters turning to female sources.8

At a time when the rights of women and minorities are under attack, the role of women journalists in uncovering stories on gender inequality and social injustice is more important than ever.

Women journalists are often the first to uncover stories of discrimination, inequality and exclusion. They ensure a multiplicity of voices are represented, reaching those most marginalised by society. At the forefront of changing social norms on gender and building just and inclusive societies, women journalists are committed to shining a light on issues of social justice.

“The responsibility for those of us who are protecting and promoting women’s rights is really to unite in pushing back against the push-back” Executive Director, UN Women.

6 https://worldjusticeproject.org/our-work/research-and-data/wjp-rule-law index-2021

7 https://whomakesthenews.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/GMMP2020. ENG_.FINAL20210713.pdf

8 Ibid


In the words Soraya Kishtwari, a Journalist formerly based in Vietnam

Women journalists’ coverage of social inequality

Some of the best journalism in Vietnam today can be found in its coverage of social inequality, much of which has been spearheaded by local women journalists. At the forefront is Phu N Vi t Nam, the Vietnamese Women’s Newspaper whose editorial team is made up entirely of women. Established in 1948 in support of the Vietnamese Women’s Union, the newspaper has grown in terms of its content and coverage.

Among its achievements is a twentyarticle investigation into the molestation of preschool-aged girls by a 77-year-old male. As a result of the investigation, the paedophile received a three-year jail term (18 months suspended sentence). Although sentencing for such crimes has improved significantly in a relatively short period of time, it doesn’t always reflect the severity of the abuse.

Cases of child abuse are finally getting the media treatment they deserve. Until these cases began to feature regularly in the press, many perpetrators were able to continue their abuse with impunity. Press coverage has been instrumental in helping shift public

opinion thanks to, in many cases, the dogged determination of women journalists who have helped raise awareness about the scale of the problem.

LGBTQI+ issues are today well-covered in the national press. The Ho Chi Minh’s branch of Phu . N Vi t Nam regularly publishes a relationship advice column penned by Mia Nguy n, a woman counsellor and sexual behaviour lecturer who was born male. Her regular appearance in a mainstream publication is just one example of how the presence of LGBTQI+ people has been accepted in Vietnamese society (especially in urban areas). For the LGBTQI+ community, women journalists have changed social norms, allowing them to be active citizens and empowering them to promote and protect their human rights.

However, the coverage of environmental issues does not share the same media freedom as the exploration of gender identity — not even in a newspaper as popular as Phu . N Vi t Nam. In 2020, the online version of the newspaper reported on the environmental devastation of two protected


areas by a corporation. Punishment followed — the online newspaper was temporarily shut down for spreading “false information,” the investigating reporters were monitored, pressured and intimidated, and editor Trang Thu Nguy n, who stood by her journalists and refused to distance herself from the exposé, was forced out of her job (just a year earlier, Forbes magazine had named Nguy n one of Viet Nam’s 100 most powerful women).7

Perhaps it is because women journalists are often among the first to report on social inequality that they are also targeted. Viet Nam’s #MeToo movement was kick-started by the story of an intern at a leading newspaper who attempted suicide after being raped by her editor. Rape convictions are rare in Viet Nam, with allegations not taken seriously unless there is clear evidence of resistance (physical injury is needed to prove the encounter was non-consensual). Women journalists who

choose to speak out are penalized for their decision, as one journalist discovered when her Facebook account was blocked after she had used it to comment on her own experiences of newsroom harassment.8

Another Vietnamese journalist, Ph m Đoan Trang, was sentenced to nine years in prison after writing essays speaking out against environmental and human rights issues. In her trial and prison statement, she quoted Dali Lama, saying that “this life is at its root, pluralistic, that humanity tends toward pluralism. Only the foolish would argue the fact of pluralism or deny its existence.”

Women journalists providing a critical eye on social inequality and pushing the boundaries of freedom of expression in Viet Nam hold these words close and will continue to tell the stories of the diverse people of Viet Nam and investigate and report on issues of social inequality.


National security laws and women journalists

In 2018, Front Line Defenders Global Analysis documented that human rights defenders were charged under security legislation in 58% of the cases the organization dealt with.

Globally, journalists are being targeted through counterterrorism and national security legislation, according to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

While counter-terrorism, national security and intelligence legislation are intended to protect countries and citizens, if not applied proportionately they also threaten the free press and silence journalists. When journalists and media workers are seen as threats and counter-terrorism and national security laws are triggered in repones, the press as a vanguard of human rights and democracy is undermined.

The Human Rights Council has stressed “the need to ensure that invocation of national security, including counterterrorism, is not used unjustifiably or arbitrarily to restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression.9

“The freedom of the press is guaranteed in article 19 of the ‘International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’”

Human Rights Council, Resolution 7/36, UN Doc. A/HRC/7/36 (28 March 2008)

In the words of Filipina journalists, Celine Isabelle Samson

Telling her story in the face of hate and harassment


For young journalists, the work is often exciting; they get to document history as it happens and tell stories of people from all walks of life. It’s a different feeling, however, when they become part of the news — particularly when it’s over wrongful accusations.

Shortly before the May 2019 midterm elections, the organization I work for (VERA Files, a non-profit media organization) and its president were accused of being part of a network of groups and individuals scheming to discredit a political leader. We were presented with a diagram of journalists and members of a lawyers’ group who were accused of collaborating to destroy the politician’s image.

The allegation was downright false. The person standing behind this accusation eventually acknowledged that he did not even verify the diagram before making it public and that it had come from an “unknown number.”

The diagram story would have been laughable if it was not deliberately manufactured to muddle the mind of the public with lies and endanger the lives of the persons named in the diagram.

The false allegation surfaced barely a year into my first full-time journalism job, working as part of VERA Files’ newly-formed online factchecking team. I felt worried for some time, not over the veracity of the ouster plot claim, but over the threat that we were being surveilled.

The duet of a lie and the potential endangerment of one’s safety and security is a tune that journalists know all too well.

Apart from the false ouster plot, several reporters and editors have been branded as communist, which is akin to being called a terrorist. The latter is especially dangerous

with the backdrop of a fresh anti-terrorism law that allows warrantless arrests and detention of suspects for up to 24 days.

Online news feeds are rife with disinformation from all sorts of sources and use falsehoods to polarize the nation and to attack the credibility of legitimate media outlets. Social media is used as a vehicle to spread hate. People who support those that VERA Files holds accountable fill fact-checkers’ inboxes and article comment sections with vitriol and misogynistic remarks.

In the face of all this maliciousness, I found it important that as a woman journalist early in her career, I had good newsroom leaders who were not intimidated by the deluge of harassment, regardless of where it comes from.

My editors have calmly responded to false and misogynistic remarks made on our newsroom and its reporters. Many editors in my organization have been journalists since the Marcos era of the 1970s and 80s, when the state-controlled the Philippine press. The wisdom and resilience of my editors have taught me to ride out the waves of hate and disinformation against our organization and industry with composure and fierceness.

VERA Files is one of the 37 petitioners challenging the constitutionality of the abovementioned anti-terror law, which threatens to curtail several freedoms, including the freedoms of speech and expression.

VERA Files was founded in 2008 by six women veteran journalists who wanted to fill the void of in-depth reporting in the Philippines. To this day, our organization remains predominantly composed of women. Every day I find myself grateful that I get to learn from them and that I have joined the ranks of the team’s young leaders.


Patriarchal mindsets silencing women journalists


On average across the Asia and the Pacific region, women make up 29% of the media workforce.

The proportions are lower in decision-making roles in media organizations, where women make up:

18% of executive roles; 20% of senior editorial positions; 23% of mid-level editorial positions.


There is a clear gender pay gap in Asia and the Pacific region, with women on average earning US$436 per month, compared with men earning US$506 per month.

Women’s movements have been powerful drivers of global and national action to advance gender equality. The #MeToo movement and other women-led public protests have raised awareness of the impacts that gender-based violence have on women in all aspects of their lives, including at the workplace. Today, the mindset that sexist remarks or harassment are part of the job’ is no longer acceptable; many women and men are demanding change in the world of media.

Media is one of the most important and influential tools for spreading awareness and consolidating movements away from patriarchal mindsets. Gender-responsive journalism plays an essential role in advocating for women’s rights and mainstreaming gender perspectives into news coverage.

There are several steps that need to be taken in order to challenge patriarchal mindsets regarding women’s role in society and the newsroom. One of them is improving women’s representation in the media.


34% of journalists had witnessed sexual harassment at work;

17% of female journalists have personally experenced workplace sex;

59% of the time the perpetrator was a superior.

10 https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/CivicSpace/UN_Guidance_Note.pdf BANGLADESH - WORD BY BANANI MALLICK

In the words of Bangladeshi journalist, Banani Mallick


out patriarchal

power to establish a media paradigm that ensures gender justice and women’s rights

In Bangladesh’s sociocultural context, the scope and opportunities for women to work as journalists are quickly shrinking. This is happening mainly due to a growing influence of negative patriarchal power. Misogyny, toxic work environments and extremism are amplifying patriarchal intolerance of women in the field of journalism. Mounting communal attitudes and conventional superstitions are creating additional barriers for women to enter and thrive in this sector.

I have witnessed patriarchal power in almost every sphere of life, ranging from my social upbringing and education to societal norms. I have seen the negative influence of patriarchy on society and its institutions and wish for it to be replaced with the values of empathy, human life and well-being.

Patriarchal norms are particularly visible and challenging for women journalists from minority communities. Consider my case, for instance. As a Hindu, I am a member

of a minority community. As a woman, I have endured many struggles in moving my career forward because of patriarchal powers threatening my professional existence. Our male colleagues are not prepared to recognize that their female colleagues’ work is equal to theirs — or even better.

Numerous male colleagues have made my career difficult by harassing and stalking me, both inside and outside the office. In 2017, a number of my male colleagues conspired to damage my reputation by branding me as a woman of low morals and questionable character. I have witnessed many offensive acts directed at women journalists, especially after male colleagues have recognized our potential and learned that we are outspoken about gender and women’s rights issues. I have also seen how promptly employees respond when a male journalist asks for a non-work-related favour (say, ordering a cup of tea) and how slowly they respond when a woman journalist asks for a similar favour.


Over the last several years, people have proposed that if women journalists occupy high-level policymaking positions, they can ensure justice and human rights for journalists and bring an end to gender discrimination. However, discrimination also happens at the hands of female colleagues. I have met many women reporters who, similar to their male counterparts, have been discriminatory and uncooperative. In particular, a former woman chief reporter had been unkind and unfair in dealing with me for years. The repetition of this treatment, including from female colleagues, has often driven me to work/life stress and depression.

Observing in silence, I have gradually come to realize that they, too, are victims of patriarchal power. That when they assume a powerful position, they too start exerting power on their subordinates.

I therefore remain unconvinced that by solely empowering women at the top level, women in journalism will not face the deprivations that I have witnessed and endured. But I do think we need role models who can become a source of inspiration and courage. Perhaps I can be a model for others. Irrespective of gender identity, we need non-patriarchal allies who treat women as part of humanity.

There is a need for training and discussions on gender-related issues in media outlets, targeting colleagues from top to bottom. I think it will help us to have gender-friendly people around us and to remove threats to freedom of expression that prevent journalists from delivering true and fearless journalism.


Maintaining the civic space through journalism


Freedom of expression, association, assembly Right to participate

Security of those who speak up


• Variety of voices

• Options tailored to needs

• Candid feedback

• Better responses

• Stronger buy-in

• More sustainable peace

• Better development outcomes

• More resilient societies

A shrinking civic space is a critical early warning sign of a general deterioration in human rights. Restrictions on women’s human rights is a well-established indicator of communal unrest and conflict.

Women journalists are at the nexus of shrinking civic space and restrictions on women’s human rights. Women journalists — for both their profession and their gender — are among the first to be targeted amid crackdowns.

A free press with women journalists strongly represented is a sign of an equitable and just society that values open civic space.12

11 UN Guidance Note: Protection and Promotion of Civic Space, 2020

12 International Labour Organisation, Global Estimates of Modern Slavery, Forced Labour and Forced Marriage, 2017


In the words of Indian journalist, Siddhi Shah

Self-censorship is not an option

It is time to see women’s and men’s roles as existing under one spectrum rather than as existing in separate spheres. When girls are born in India, they are automatically burdened with responsibilities and expectations of what they are supposed to be like. In a progressive world, questions arise of what perpetuates misogyny and unjust gender practices?

In my writing as a young, aspiring journalist, I have had to overcome a number of hurdles when expressing my thoughts on sensitive issues. In a country like India, entrenched with values, customs and many conservative traditions, I have always had to be mindful of what I wrote in order to avoid offending community, personal or societal values. Given the veritable epidemic of online hate against women, I was quite wary of triggering a backlash.

With this in mind, I looked around and noticed the same trend with my peers –increasing avoidance of certain topics out of fear that doing so could trigger violence. Unfortunately, the shrinking civic space and backlash are starting to wear us down.

I often noticed readers held unequal viewpoints when their religious beliefs conflicted with the stories I wrote. For example, many Indian readers wonder — how can I write against a religion or any religious practice? Due to old traditions, a stereotypical ideology towards women is embedded in the majority of people; most believe that women are inferior to men and should be at home.

Journalists have a responsibility to spotlight even the most sensitive issues when the issues result from injustice. Women journalists often give the voiceless a voice, access segments of society that are largely out of sight and break down stereotypes and cultural barriers that undermine gender equality.

More must be done to push back against the shrinking civic space in which journalists operate. Without strong policies and laws that promote and protect the rights of freedom of expression (and protect women journalists), we risk living in a society that perpetually self-censors, stifles critical thinking and undermines democratic participation.



Investigative reporting by women journalists


THE INFORMAL ECONOMY 14 + 60% of the world’s employed population are in the informal economy. 68% In the Asia and the Pacific region of employment is informal.

Out of the two billion workers in informal employment worldwide, just over 740 MILLION are women.


40 MILLION PEOPLE are ensnared in some form of modern slavery

25 MILLION in forced labour 15 MILLION in forced marriage

ONLY 5% of women workers in South Asia are formally employed.

• In low- and lower-middleincome countries, women in informal employment often find themselves in the particularly vulnerable situations.

• Most workers in the informal sector do not have employment contracts and are outside the purview of labour laws, limiting avenues for redress against exploitation and abuse.

OUT OF THE 25 MILLION PEOPLE TRAPPED IN FORCED LABOUR: 16 MILLION are exploited in the private sector in areas such as domestic work, construction or agriculture; 5 MILLION are subject to forced sexual exploitation; 4 MILLION are forced to perform labour imposed by state authorities.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by forced labour, accounting for 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry and 58% in other sectors. 13

13 International Labour Organisation, Women and men in the informal economy: A statistical picture. Third edition

14 ‘UN Guidance Note: Protection and Promotion of Civic Space’, 2020


In the words of Bangladeshi journalist, Ruhina Ferdous

Women journalists cannot be silenced


Women, children, minority communities and marginalized groups are most affected by disasters; the COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception. Many women lost their jobs when the pandemic struck Bangladesh. As one of the few fortunate woman journalists who was able to save her job, I decided to start writing stories about women who faced difficult situations.

Around this time, I came across a garment factory in Malibag, Dhaka, that fired 500 of its workers without any notice. The majority of those fired were women. When I went to the factory, I saw hundreds of female and male workers standing in front of the factory in protest. Though the COVID-19 crisis was at its peak in Bangladesh, they were not afraid of the virus; they wanted justice.

Begum, one of the workers who was laid off, was taking part in the protests. When I spoke with her, she said, “I joined this factory 30 years ago. When the COVID -19 crisis started, our manager took my employee card. He said I needed to renew my card, so I gave my identity card to him. But when he issued a new employee card for me, there was no mention about my actual joining date. Instead, he used a new date that said that I had worked for the factory for only 10 years.” As a result of the incorrect service period, the 47-year-old woman received just taka 4,500 (US$52) after losing her job. After her dismissal, she did not receive any other benefits.

Begum wasn’t alone; I gradually came to learn that the factory had laid off its workers at different times, without any notice and without full payment. I also found that several factories were laying off workers — and using various irregularities in the process.

Bangladesh has made a lot of progress in the garment industry. There are many factories where the worker-owner relationship is much better. Unfortunately, some factories still cheat their workers. To find out more about the matter, I spoke to 20 to 25 workers who lost their jobs at different factories in Savar and Gazipur, Dhaka. I came to learn that they were all deprived of their fair wages.

Suddenly, I started getting anonymous phone calls that said vulgar things about my character, such as “what are my rates?”, “how much money would I want for a onenight stay?” and “as a woman, why do I do journalism instead of making a family?”

Conducting investigative journalism in Bangladesh is becoming increasingly difficult. Writing investigative pieces is particularly risky for women journalists. Women journalists risk being attacked in various ways on the phone and on online platforms — and possibly in person.

The intent behind offline and online harassment and abuse of women journalists is not only about silencing journalism; it is about silencing women in general. This is why addressing the issue in the long term requires developing and implementing strong gender equality and non-discrimination policies. In Bangladesh, we need a constructive, collaborative framework that brings together different stakeholders to address these issues.

Despite advice from my senior colleagues to stop reporting temporarily, I am still working on my investigation, and I continue to speak to victims. I still get anonymous phone calls, but no one from the other end speaks to me — just dead silence! I will not meet their silence with silence; you cannot silence women journalists.


Safety of women in public and private domains

Although 31 OUT OF 39 countries in the region have laws against gender-based violence, it remains widespread. Violence against women and girls has devastating physical, emotional, financial and social impacts on women and communities.

37% in South Asia; 40% in Southeast Asia; 68% in the Pacific.


Violence against women and girls is the most widespread violation of human rights worldwide, affecting one in three women in her lifetime. In the Asia and the Pacific region, the numbers are unacceptably high — over 37 per cent of women in South Asia, 40 per cent of women in Southeast Asia, and 68 per cent of women in the Pacific have experienced violence at the hands of their partners.

Although 31 out of 39 countries in the region have laws against gender-based violence, it remains widespread. Violence against women and girls has devastating physical, emotional, financial and social impacts on women and communities.

For women in the public eye, including women journalists, the risks of being targeted are extreme — women journalists are targeted online significantly more than their male colleagues. The threats women journalists face are highly sexualized and often focus on their physical features, ethnicity or cultural background.

The international community has recognized the need to take into account the specific risks that women journalists face both offline and online, including through resolutions of the Security Council, Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.


The UN General Assembly […] condemns unequivocally the specific attacks on women journalists and media workers in relation to their work, such as gender-based discrimination and violence, including online and offline sexual harassment, intimidation and incitement to hatred against women journalists, and calls upon States to tackle these issues as part of broader efforts to promote and protect the human rights of women, eliminate gender inequality and tackle gender-based stereotypes in society.

Calls upon States to develop and implement effectively legal frameworks and measures for the protection of journalists and media workers and for combating impunity, taking into consideration the gender dimensions thereof, including, where appropriate, through the creation and strengthening of special investigative units or independent commissions, the appointment of a specialized prosecutor and the adoption of specific protocols and methods of investigation and prosecution;


In the words of Pakistani journalist, Lubna Jerar Naqvi

The long-term consequence of violence against women

In 2008, a friend sent me a screenshot of a reaction to a piece I had written in the mid1990s. Before this, I was unaware that people used the Internet to attack you for your writings. I had received hate mail in the past, but this was the first time I had encountered it online.

Social norms in Pakistan define how people should act in certain situations. I wrote an article about those social norms that was light and humorous — or so I thought. The problem began when a comment was posted under my article that said: “Lubna J. Naqvi of the News Teaches Hypocrisy & Pre Marital [sic] Relations to the Youth!!!”

This is a dangerous statement to make about someone in Pakistani society, especially about a woman. My article was being used to show readers that the writer (me) was teaching youth ‘western things’, which, according to some people, is equal to teaching them to rebel against society, religion or worse.

Writing on gender and women’s rights has always been difficult to do in Pakistan,

especially in the 1990s. It attracts criticism and hate from readers who see it as a threat to their customs and traditions, which are mostly rooted in patriarchy.

Another problem is that gender topics are largely restricted to the ‘women’s pages/ sections’. Although many women work in the media, gender is still considered a ‘soft’ beat; most gender stories are used as fillers on slow news days. As reflected in Pakistan’s media, gender issues and minority rights are not given priority. It is almost as if they fall within society’s blind spot and so remain under-reported.

Then on a cold morning in January 2018, the body of six-year-old Zainab was discovered on a pile of garbage.

Within hours of her murder being reported, traditional and social media blew up with images of her lifeless body. Unethical as the sharing of images of a child’s body was, it revealed the brutality of the crime — they showed people that she was not only raped and murdered, but tossed onto a pile of rubbish.


Zainab’s rape was among the first times rape was discussed in the media and offline. Even those who had always claimed that crimes like rape don’t occur in Islamic society were forced to change their view as images of her small body were seared into their memories.

As expected, the media hype eventually died down — until next time.

While Pakistan has several laws that protect women, they are not enough to change things. Gender-based violence and harassment are still widespread, and many in the media lack the skills to report on gender

and justice. They need training on how to report on important and sensitive topics and keep themselves up to date on national and international laws and rights.

Although I have tried my best and have covered issues such as the parallel judicial system, child, early and forced marriage, women’s rights, marital and divorce rights, domestic abuse, and laws that protect women, more needs to be done. The media needs to publish more stories related to gender and editors need to ensure that gender stories are not restricted to a particular time slot or page and that the stories are covered widely.



Without freedom of expression, and particularly freedom of the press, an informed, active and engaged citizenry is impossible. In a climate where journalists are safe, citizens find it easier to access quality information and many objectives become possible as a result: democratic governance and poverty reduction; conservation of the environment; gender equality and the empowerment of women; justice and a culture of human rights, to name a few.

UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity

• Immediate and unconditional release of all journalists and media workers who have been arrested, detained or disappeared for exercising their freedom of expression.

Take urgent attention for the release of women and non-binary journalists and media workers and those reporting on equality issues, noting their increased risk of gender-based harassment and violence.

• Create and maintain, in law and practice, a safe and enabling offline and online environment for women journalists to perform their work.

Repeal or amend laws that curtail the work of journalists and media workers and that are inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression.

Increase the capacities of the judiciary, law enforcement, parliamentarians, media agencies and other actors on international human rights and humanitarian law obligations relating to journalist safety.

Combat sexual and gender-based discrimination and violence against women journalists.

• Adopt mechanisms and measures to ensure the safety and security of women journalists and media workers who exercise their freedom of expression.

Develop gender-inclusive action plans on journalist safety.


Integrate the safety of journalists into national sustainable development and gender equality strategies under the 2030 Agenda.

Collect and analyse data on attacks and violence against women journalists and media workers.

Strengthen institutions that prevent violence and that support accountability for attacks against women journalists and media workers, including justice actors, national human rights institutions, independent ombudsmen facilities and civil society organizations.

• Prevent, investigate and prosecute criminal acts committed against women journalists and media workers, whether online or offline, and provide remedies for victims.

Prevent violence, threats and attacks against women journalists and media workers by combatting the drivers of gender inequality and misogyny.

Publicly and systematically condemn attacks, harassment and violence against women journalists and media workers.

Adopt and implement gender-sensitive investigative procedures and strategies for combating impunity for attacks against journalists.

Provide psychosocial support to survivors of violence.

• Invest in women journalists and media workers.

Support projects and initiatives aimed at empowering women journalists, non-binary journalists and those reporting on gender equality issues.

Recognize that gender-transformative journalism, diversity of voices and a free press are central to sustaining democracy, the civic space and supporting an informed public.

• Build a gender-inclusive and diverse media industry.

Foster gender equality, inclusion and diversity in the media industry.

Ensure that women journalists and media workers have access to equal working opportunities and can work in a safe environment.

Mainstream gender through editorial policies and adopting gender-specific operating procedures.


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