Iraq is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists according to Reporters without Borders, ranking 160 out of 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index. Women journalists and activists in Iraq have a particularly difficult time due to online threats and attacks that adversely affect their ability to express themselves freely and advocate effectively. Women have witnessed an escalation in online abuse over the past few years, not just in numbers, but also in methods and sophistication. The risk of harassment and gender-based attacks online is not limited to the digital space as research has shown that online abuse and stalking often escalate into real world physical violence if left unaddressed. In an interview with The New Arab, Hala ‘Asif, a 24-year-old journalist working as a correspondent for the channel NRT in Baghdad, noted that, "Foreign journalists often investigate political affairs in Iraq, which sometimes is impossible for us to cover as it would be too dangerous and would prevent us from working safely in our country. I would like to go to other provinces in Iraq and carry out investigations about relevant issues, but as a young woman it would cost too much to take care of my safety." To address the issue of women’s safety in Iraq, Internews, with funding from the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), is using a multi-pronged approach – building local networks, coordinating advocacy, and conducting targeted journalism trainings on gender-sensitive issues. Internews’ program, Women Voices (Aswat Al-Maraa), aims to challenge societal attitudes that stigmatize survivors of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) by supporting journalists and women human rights defenders to shed light on sensitive issues through coordinated reporting and advocacy. The program works with female Iraqi journalists and media outlets to create a nationwide coalition of women journalists and human rights defenders to strengthen their resilience against gender-based attacks and build the capacity of journalists to report on sensitive human rights and SGBV. Within the Women's Voices project, Internews has conducted so far two training-of-trainers (TOT) workshops that focus on the digital and physical security of the project participants. Through a peer-to-peer program, TOT trainees have trained eighty women from Erbil, Najaf, and Halabja how to protect themselves from threats online and in their everyday lives. Best practices for password security proved to be one of the most beneficial portions of the workshops, with one of the Halabja participants noting, "It has been 10 years and I haven't changed my password on my email or Facebook accounts. This workshop was in particularly important to remind people in our field of work how important it is to protect ourselves online as we do offline." Another participant, from the Erbil workshop, said, "Females often have to face extreme scrutiny of their presence online, and are threatened with death in some instances for photos posted online without family consent or that are considered inappropriate; these kinds of workshops are incredibly important for every female in this country." To support the voices and participation of women in some of the world’s most challenging places, Internews' MENA team ensures the implementation of digital as well as a physical security trainings in all of its projects across the region.
Towards a Gender Transformative Organization
Internews believes that access to information is a root solution to many of the world’s problems. It enables women and men to participate in civic discourse, stand up for their rights, influence policy and social norms, and hold governments to account.
When women's voices are heard, when women produce the news, the information we all consume improves.
We believe that the empowerment of women and girls is a prerequisite for equal rights for all. But all over the world, women and girls’ voices are often ignored or invisible in the media, with far less content featuring their voices and views – just 10% of all news stories globally focus on women or girls, and roughly 80% of the “experts” interviewed by the news media are men. Women are also dramatically underrepresented in the industry itself. Globally, only 27% of the top management jobs in the media sector are occupied by women. Among reporters, it’s only 36%. And women and girls experience more intense online harassment, including sexual harassment.
Internews launched an ambitious 5-year Gender Equality & Women’s Empowerment Strategy in 2018. This strategy shapes the way we plan, design, implement, monitor and learn from our work. It challenges discriminatory gender norms, and strives to advance equality across all gender identities.
The strategy is designed to:
- Strengthen the collective effort of Internews staff to ensure that everyone benefits equally from Internews’ and our partners’ work;
- Create a workplace environment in which all people can work together in an equitable and respectful way and in which women’s leadership is encouraged and supported;
- Ensure safe access to information for women, girls and marginalized groups in some of the world’s most challenging places;
- Advance women’s leadership in the media, information and communications technology fields;
- Improve the information we all consume by promoting more stories produced by, for and about women and girls; and
- Involve men as active participants and help men challenge gender inequality, discriminatory gender norms and stereotypical gender roles.