Protecting Female Journalists Starts With Giving Them Authority

Sexual harassment has a multiplier effect on the impact and careers of female journalists. While the recent widespread attention and condemnation of sexual harrassment is welcomed, the issue is far from new. In the nearly 30 years of its existence, the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) has repeatedly heard of aggressions perpetrated against remarkably brave journalists in all corners of the world. These women are often the first in their newsrooms, the first to push into the ranks of leadership and the first to be attacked just because of their gender.

A ‘double attack’

It’s no wonder then that those consuming the news are growing increasingly skeptical.

Attacks range from verbal threats to physical attacks. According to the IWMF’s report, Violence and Harassment against Female Journalists, 40 percent of women respondents to our survey experienced some form of threat or attack doing their work and an astounding 60 percent experienced these attacks in their actual place of work. Who would have thought that a female journalist is in greater peril at her very place of employment at the hands of her colleagues and supervisors – than she is in the field?

Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, has described it as a ‘double attack’: they are being targeted both for being journalists and for being female. The solution is more women in leadership positions.

Talking about it

Greater responsibility, visibility and authority for women is one of many antidotes to harassment. The underlying assumption being that female leaders are less accepting of sexual harassment and create work-cultures that do not tolerate it. According to a recent Equal Opportunity Commission Report, ‘The importance of leadership cannot be overstated – effective harassment prevention efforts, and workplace culture in which harassment is not tolerated, must start with and involve the highest levels of management of the company.’

Safety is a precondition to gender equity in the news media. We must do better. The ripple effect on our societies of violence against female journalists cannot be overstated. Violence against female journalists and sexual harassment – coupled with a pervasive glass ceiling and general inequity – has driven promising female journalists out of the profession. The result is a news media industry where decisions are made, and stories are told, largely from a male perspective. It’s no wonder then that those consuming the news are growing increasingly skeptical.