The IAWRT Safety Handbook for Women Journalists, launched in November 2017.

Ronalyn V. Olea takes a look at what the handbook can do for female media workers.

Security and safety for journalists (especially for women journalists) is something that’s not taught in schools and rarely discussed in newsrooms. We learned the principles of journalism, the basics of newsgathering and other reporting skills and the tools for critical thinking and analysis but never how to prepare ourselves for threats and challenges we might encounter as women journalists.

Abeer Saady’s book, What if…? Safety Handbook for Women Journalists, provides practical tips for women journalists on how to minimize risks when covering sensitive and dangerous assignments.

The handbook’s main strength is its compilation of experiences, not only those of Saady as a journalist for 27 years, but also those of other women journalists who faced difficult situations.

Saady underscores the importance of physical, psychosocial and digital safety and security.

Looking back at my own experiences and those of colleagues in the alternative media, I realized most of us tend to overlook our own safety and security when in the field.

How to protect and minimize harm to our physical safety is something we learned from experience. We only bought a helmet after our colleague covered a violent demolition in San Roque a few years back. She was crying while tear gas canisters and stones were thrown from all directions. Unlike colleagues from the wire agencies, our reporter did not have a bulletproof vest and other protective gear. After that, we decided we need that type of gear but due to limited resources, we could not purchase even just one set.

But yes, as Saady points out in the handbook, risk assessment, profile management, situational and digital awareness and a safety plan are also crucial.

Many of the tips shared in the handbook are practical enough for any journalist or newsroom to do. Going back to the incident I mentioned earlier, the newsroom knew that the demolition of shanties could turn violent but we did not have a safety plan. Our reporter went there without a grab bag (which should contain water, snacks, and a first-aid kit, amongst other things). After the chaos, she called up two of our colleagues to ask for help. We did not have any communication plan either. She was fetched by our Editor in Chief, from the site.

We usually do one-woman coverage, even for out-of-town assignments, due to limitation in resources. Looking back, I managed to survive with the help of people’s organizations. Almost always, they assigned somebody to assist me as I do my job. This proved helpful when I went to cover a fact-finding mission in Hinoba-an, Negros Occidental about the impacts of mining on local communities. My buddy served as my interpreter during interviews, and he never left me when security guards of a private mining company intimidated the group.

The handbook provides tips on what to do when stopped at checkpoints, arrested during coverage, when kidnapped or held hostage, and when caught in crossfire.

Psychosocial security is something that’s not always being attended to. A colleague working for a community radio could not sleep for three months after covering a violent dispersal of farmers in North Cotabato and to this day, she feels the trauma of witnessing a farmer die beside her. The handbook suggests ways of dealing with survivors of such trauma.

The handbook suggests the following ‘how to’ for colleagues who have experienced trauma: (Its useful pronciples can also apply to reporting on survivors of trauma)

  • Take time to let someone who’s been through a bad time tell their story.
  • Ask them open-ended questions. Listen to what they want to say. Don’t interrupt or come back with your own experiences.
  • Don’t tell them you know how they feel. You can’t.
  • Don’t put down their experience or imply they only need to pull themselves together.
  • Never be judgmental.

What if…” also provides tips in dealing with online harassment. Some of our female colleagues in the dominant (or manistream)  media were threatened with sexual assault on social media by those alleged to be Presidental supporters. For such cases, the handbook suggests naming and shaming the online harasser, and moderating the comments section and preventing people from being anonymous, amongst others.

A Norwegian journalist who became a victim of online harassment believes that a better solution would be to develop what she calls harassment competence, such as learning how to distinguish between various forms of bullying, as her interviewees did. She suggests distinguishing between ‘the angry’, ‘the crazy’, and ‘the dangerous’ bullies. “The ‘angry’ are people you can respond to, and perhaps even make them understand that you’re a person who might get hurt by their utterances. Harassment coming from ‘the crazy’ and ‘the dangerous’ had better be ignored…since a reply often makes the bullying even worse,” she shared.

In this time of social media, women journalists should take precautions in protecting their digital safety and security. Some of our colleagues in the dominant media reported that their social media accounts were hacked. Logging in by default (remembered passwords) to one’s emails or social media accounts through applications on mobile might be easy but compromises one’s safety and contacts. The handbook lists tips on how to do a digital cleanup.

The handbook has a separate section on ethical safety decisions. The point is to ‘do no harm’.

Another section is devoted to legal safety. Knowing one’s rights as a journalist and the libel and other media laws in one’s country, or one being visited, is helpful.

The handbook, which can be downloaded from the IAWRT’s website, should be read by every woman journalist.

Creating an environment where women journalists can perform their job without fear or danger is something that we must continue to struggle for. Yet a  2013 global survey of security risks for women journalists revealed that a majority preferred not to report gender-based violence for fear of losing their job or of being stigmatized.

Twelve women Filipino journalists have been killed in the line of duty since the restoration of democratic institutions in 1986; four of whom died during the Ampatuan massacre on Nov. 23, 2009. Not one of the perpetrators of these murders has been brought to justice.

Every journalist must fight impunity, which engenders gender-based violence and media murders. 

Ronalyn (pictured) is a non-mainstream media practitioner in the Philippines and member of the IAWRT,  This article is adapted from original publication in ( with permission.


Take care of personal safety before your equipment

By Sarah Nakibuuka Bakehena

The IAWRT Uganda Chapter held a ‘Safety Training Workshop on safety measures and protection for female journalists 

The training was conducted by Abeer Saady the Vice President of IAWRT International on 21 November 2017 at the Grand Imperial Hotel Kampala. The workshop was aimed particulalry at those who report in conflict zones

She cautioned journalists to take care of their personal safety before considering their equipment because their life is much more important. Journalists were also told to take the precaution  of knowing how to carry out first aid,  both for themselves and their colleagues. While they were advised to avoid unnecessary risks, they need to be able to deal with any injuries received on the job.

Abeer also called on journalists to always assess risk by identifying the threats, estimating the level of risk, and managing the risk through a security plan which involves: Preparation (risk assessment and gender related preparation); Travel to the site (mobility preparations: transportation, times, and routes); Implementation of mission (situational awareness) and returning home.

Abeer called on journalists to consider the following ethical questions as they develop stories: Why am I publishing the story? Will someone get hurt by my story? Can I find alternatives? Can I reduce the harm? Can I defend my decision? These are key to avoiding risk.

Ms. Sarah Nakibuuka Bakehena Secretary of IAWRT noted that a number of journalists, especially female journalists, receive lots of threats but never report them – something that puts their lifes at risk. She called on the media in Uganda to always report any cases of threat to the police and to work with IAWRT Uganda to enable them seek legal support.

She called on women’s organizations and law firms to support an initiative to ensure that all journalists benefit from such legal support.

The workshop was attended by IAWRT Members in Uganda from various media organisations including: Radio One, Akabozi Radio, NTV Uganda, Impact FM, Vision Group, (Bukedde FM and Urban Television), Ndejje University Kampala Mass Communication Department, Salt FM, Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ), KFM and Dembe FM, CBS FM and Mama FM.  Ms. first name? Marte H. Hoiby Department  of Journalism and Media Studies Oslo and Akershus University College (HiOA)  and also a member of IAWRT Norway also attended the training.



Sudden Death of Newly Elected IAWRT Board Member

1 May 1982 – 30 November 2017

By Violet Gonda, IAWRT President

It is with profound shock and sadness that IAWRT announces the sudden death of Yasmine Ryan, the newly elected IAWRT board member from New Zealand. We have been informed that our friend and colleague died in Turkey on Thursday morning.

Yasmine was doing her last stint as Senior Features Editor at TRT World in Istanbul and was planning to return to freelance journalism in the new year. TRT World reported that she “lost her life by falling from the 5th floor of her friend’s apartment.”

Yasmine was recently elected in absentia as a board member of IAWRT at the just ended Biennial Conference in the Philippines. Just three days ago, the newly elected board had its first meeting via Skype, which Yasmine attended.

She was so excited and shared her thoughts and vision about IAWRT. It is so sad. The fact remains that Yasmine Ryan was a fearless journalist and was working on some important assignments in conflict areas in the Middle East.

Please see the member feature on Yasmine which was published a few days ago, to introduce her to members. There she talks of her career and plans and her skill in mentoring. This is an unbelievable loss for IAWRT. We will leave the feature in place for the usual time, as a tribute to her.

Yasmine was an award-winning print, television and multimedia journalist, having worked in top international news organizations. In 2016 she became a Fellow at the World Press Institute, allowing her to closely follow the US Presidential campaign last year.  Earlier, Yasmine was a member of Al Jazeera English’s online team where she was at the forefront of the web team’s coverage of the Tunisian uprising and the political turmoil that followed. Her journey in journalism began nearly 10 years ago with the New Zealand’s Scoop Independent News.

As we wait for more news on the facts behind her death, we at IAWRT, express our deepest condolences to her family and friends in this hour of tragedy. Yasmine’s death is a great loss to journalism and the IAWRT community at large.

“Have confidence in yourself, and don’t let yourself be sidelined. Go out and do ambitious projects even if no one is supporting you” – Yasmine Ryan 

May Yasmine’s soul rest in eternal in peace!

A tribute from Ashfaaq Carim, TRT World’s Digital Editor in Chief is available here.