Non-profit organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have marked International Women’s Day by releasing a report entitled ‘Sexism’s toll on journalism’. The report addresses the risk of sexist and sexual violence towards women, including verbal and physical threats.
Each from a different country, 112 journalists who write on gender issues both internal and external to the RSF were polled. 71% were conscious of discrimination towards women, with 40 countries being identified as particularly dangerous for women journalists.
After becoming a subject of gender-based violence, Patricia Devlin, a female journalist in Belfast, told the BBC: “Male journalists who do the same job as me, who have written closer to the bone about paramilitaries, do not get the same level of abuse. I suppose these people think that these women are an easier target”.
In terms of cyber-harassment, 73% of respondents highlighted the internet as the most dangerous place for sexism and sexual violence. Last month, Canadian video games journalist Mary Gushie wrote on the “countless death threats, harassment and hurtful comments” she has received via the internet as a direct response to tailoring her content to “highlight issues of female representation in the games industry”.
Alongside sexist behaviour, 36% of participants reported their risk being increased as a member of an ethnic minority and a further 36% highlighting lesbophobia. This risk is also compounded by being a mother.
In response to this behaviour, the RSF survey found 61% of people who had reported an incident to their organisation said they had not received a specific response, with only 9% noting the establishment of a good conduct charter or code.
The most common consequences of this gender-based violence on women journalists were found to be stress, anxiety, and fear, with 54% of respondents saying they were worried about losing their job and 49% saying they feared they could be killed.
As a result of this, 38% of women emphasised a loss of motivation to work and 22% highlighted women closing social media accounts and leaving professional networks. National Union of Journalists national executive member Natasha Hirst stated that when this happens, women are withdrawing their voice from online platforms, thus compromising their rights and freedoms.
The RSF concluded its report with recommendations of an internal mechanism to deal with online threats and a monitoring unit capable of supporting and protecting women journalists who have become the victims of sexist and sexual violence.