Women reporting conflicts: Changing the narrative, staying safe

Ten women journalists were killed in the line of duty in 2022, most of them reporting from conflict zones.  Women journalists face extreme challenges while reporting on the ground, from military attacks and threats to police intimidation, surveillance and gender-based violence. But reporting from conflict zones and areas of civil unrest is also an opportunity for women to help change a conflict’s narrative. 

To mark International Women’s Day, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Gender Council are putting women reporting conflicts in the spotlight as part of a series of interviews to highlight the daily challenges they face, their safety needs and the importance for governments across the world to adopt international instruments that outlaw violence and attacks against journalists.

From covering wars to protest movements, women journalists working in conflict zones take immense risks in the name of freedom of information. Fighting government censorship, retaliation and deconstructing disinformation are a daily challenge for many. 

We can cover and air stories on poverty, inflation, and even the public’s criticism of political issues and politicians, but reporting on those who are responsible for these wars – whose policies have been the reason why these wars broke out– is extremely difficult, “ said Farzana Ali, Aaj News TV Bureau Chief in Peshawar, who stressed how many human stories are untold for fear of repression.

Kharkiv journalists (…) have reached an agreement among themselves not to spread unverified information under any circumstances, ” explains Ukrainian journalist Hanna Chernenko.

Safety is a main concern for women reporters and the risks of being kidnapped, disappeared, physically abused or imprisoned are the reality of their daily assignments. In many conflict zones, being a journalist does not guarantee you don’t become a target, despite international conventions, and the lack of safety equipment adapted to women’s bodies and the absence of media safety protocols put women journalists at even more risk.

The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh doubled the fear of going to the field among journalists. Killing such a prominent journalist made the work of the rest of us even more difficult and scary as we realised that none of us was safe,” says Palestinian journalist and IFJ safety trainer, Areen Amleh.

Getting a clear picture of the situation on the ground, avoiding disclosing locations, finding friends nearby who can help in case of problems, adopting emergency codes with one’s newsroom and working on a plan B ahead of the reporting are some of the tips shared by women reporters with the IFJ.

My arrest set a good example for my news agency and my journalist colleagues to be extra careful about security when reporting,” said Burmese journalist Naw Betty Han.

Precarity in the profession is another growing issue. In many parts of the world, the absence of work contracts or insurance, digital safety loopholes, and wage arrears force many journalists to take additional risks to make ends meet.

But reporting from conflict zones and zones of tensions is also an opportunity for women journalists to make a change in the conflict’s narrative, challenge gender stereotypes and report differently. Sometimes being a woman even becomes an asset to access certain locations and talk to sources.

Women may be better able to perform journalistic tasks, whether in covering the war or otherwise, given the dual impact of the nature, culture and traditions of Yemeni society,” says  Thuraya Dammaj, editor of the online media Yemen Future.

On the eve of 8 March celebrations, the IFJ urges governments across the world to fight impunity for violence perpetrated against women journalists by ratifying ILO Convention No. 190 against violence and harassment in the world of work and support the IFJ-led Convention on the safety and independence of journalists and media workers. 

To join the campaign click here.

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