By: Nour Alahmad
“I have encountered many harassments where some bullied me, particularly by my surroundings, because of my work in media”, said by Shaza (alias name) in her conversation with us.
Shaza started her career in media in her mid-twenties in parallel with the spread of mass media in northeastern Syria since the declaration of the Autonomous Administration in 2014.
Shaza was born in Qamishli City, and she worked on covering events in different areas of the Syrian Jazira. She chose to focus on Yazidi women survivors of extremist groups’ violations. As she adds, she did not survive harassments and rejection by members of the community in the beginning of her career in media.
Shaza says “working in the field of media in a country witnessing war is not easy, especially if it is in a community tending to stereotype women’s work”. In Syria, generally speaking, women are framed within specific careers limited to child upbringing and household chores, or other fixed jobs. This hinders women liberation and economic independence, and restrict their contribution to society development. This contradicts what is stated under article 23 from UN Human Rights Declaration’s “everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment”.
UN Human Rights Declaration’s article 7 states that all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) states that discrimination against women “violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity, and it is an obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men, in the political, social, economic and cultural life”. The Syrian Regime was conservative about a large number of the Convention’s clauses before signing. However, the Syrian Constitution, under article 33, confirms “respect for rights and freedoms and equality of rights and duties of all citizens regardless of gender or any differences; article 23 states that “the State shall provide women with all opportunities enabling them to effectively and fully contribute to the political, economic, social, and cultural life”.
The harassments, which Shaza and other women working in media were exposed to, were not limited to social discrimination between them and their work peers from the other gender. A number of female journalists and media professionals had to resign for several reasons not limited to harassments nor molestation.
Nisreen (alias name), a journalist who preferred not to expose her identity, is from Al-Hasakah City. She has faced many harassments because she works at a radio station. The issue escalated and reached a level where her husband was cursed out, and his masculinity was underestimated because he gave her the permission to work in media. Nisreen adds “this is incitement to female media professionals”.
Nisreen had to work under an alias name during her work as an editor in the news department, and she chose not to perform any field coverages in order to evade harassments. Nisreen adds “working in editing has mitigated discomforts, but I faced harassments and job exploitation. This matter has become a burden on my husband, so, in the end, he prevented me from continuing”.
The reporter has contacted around 11 female journalists and media workers in northeastern Syria. During her conversation with them, she confirmed that the majority have been exposed to harassments physically or virtually via social media platforms.
Among the journalists we interviewed for polling, two of them confirmed they were blackmailed and harassed during their work in various media institutions where they did not submit a complaint.
Dilyar Jazeery is the co-president of Free Media Union which includes more than 700 members working in the field of media in northeastern Syria. Dilyar says “the Union has never received any complaint on harassment since the Union establishment”.
Dilyar adds “the Union has a legal committee and a counsellor specialized in following up on complaints of media workers in northeastern Syria confirming they are processed with complete confidentiality. He also confirms that female claimants can communicate with female workers in the Union, based on their preference, confirming the Union will take all legal procedures”.
Many media institutions operating in the region have focused on female journalists’ protection from all forms of harassments. One of these is Aso News whose General Manager, the journalist Serdar Mulla Darwish, confirms “working in journalism is not restricted only to a specific gender. The society has to be accustomed to the role of women and respect of gender. Journalism has witnessed an influential role of women. Equality in all life aspects is associated with society support and progress, and protection of women should be a priority for us and all who are concerned”.
Despite all attempts to avert types of harassments women working in media are facing, women being afraid to submit a complaint has exacerbated the problem. The former co-president of Free Media Union, Avin Yousef, emphasized in the recommendations she provided during her extended seminar in Erbil, “Women without Limits”, on the importance of giving attention to women journalists’ confidence boosting programs. This is done through training, support, and awareness raising of their rights of having no fear to submit complaints in case they were exposed to harassments.
According to a study conducted by Center for Media Engagement (Texas University) on 75 women journalists, it was revealed almost all women journalists have encountered online harassments targeting them personally with a focus on their gender or sexuality. Most of the women interviewed felt that they had little support from their news organizations and little training on how to handle online attacks.
According to the study, most interviewed female journalists stated that they need more support from news organizations as well as a need for training on how to handle online harassment and to receive support afterwards as part of journalism schools and professional development courses.
It is crucial that Syrian women journalists lead the society change process and advocate for a broader women participation in local communities. Therefore, local institutions and de facto authorities in various regions need to support particularly Syrian journalists and activists, should adhere to CEDAW agreement, and legitimize human rights and the Syrian Constitution in all aspects related to Syrian Women’s rights.