United Nations Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Ensure gender-justice for women journalists and media workers. MFRR submission to UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression


15 June 2021

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Submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression Irene Khan to inform her thematic report on gender justice

Across Europe, online and offline verbal abuse, threats and harassment disproportionately affect women journalists and media workers. Many of these are part of a growing trend of anti-media rhetoric, online and offline, resulting in targeted harassment, threats and smear campaigns directed at journalists and media workers of all genders. Targeting women journalists and media workers, such harassment and threats target women, they can take on an outspoken misogynistic character.

This submission by The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU) and OBC Transeuropa (OBCT), as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), considers barriers, challenges and threats that women journalists and media workers face in the exercise of their profession based on our monitoring. 

Since the start of the MFRR project in March 2020 a total of 1504 attacked persons or entities have been monitored. In 21.8% of cases, women were involved as attacked persons.  Taking a more detailed look shows that there are specific threats that women journalists are more subjected to than their male colleagues. 

In 66% of cases, women journalists and media workers were subjected to verbal attacks and psychological abuse, which is significantly higher  (factor = 1.41) than for their male colleagues. This includes online and offline intimidation and threatening, insult and abuse, harassment, and bullying and trolling behaviour. Findings show that attacks against women are most likely to occur online or in the digital sphere. Further analysis showed that women journalists and media workers are significantly more likely to face attacks from unknown assailants and less from police or state security actors compared to male collegues.

For more detailed data analysis and cases, please have a look at the full submission.

Society must send a clear signal that this cannot be tolerated, including to consistently, swiftly and thoroughly investigate such attacks, leading to the perpetrators being held accountable. 

State authorities should amend relevant laws to make them gender-responsive and invest in capacity-building and awareness-raising of stakeholders, including police, prosecuting services and the judiciary. 

Social media platforms should include specific gender-based harassment and abuse sections in community guidelines, review the effectiveness of reporting mechanisms and increase the transparency of content moderation, which must be in line with international human rights law and standards. 

Media organisations should ensure gender equality in work and working conditions and gender balance across functions. They should empower women journalists and media workers to respond to online and offline gender-based violence and harassment including appropriate support.

Politicians and public figures, in particular, must abstain from using sexist speech, as this sends a signal that such behaviour is acceptable. Instead, they should condemn misogyny in all its forms.

Signed by:

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT)

This submission is part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), an Europe-wide mechanism, which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. This project provides legal and practical support, public advocacy and information to protect journalists and media workers. The MFRR is organised by an consortium led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) with ARTICLE 19, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Institute for Applied Informatics at the University of Leipzig (InfAI), International Press Institute (IPI) and CCI/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT). The project is co-funded by the European Commission. www.mfrr.eu

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