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Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has registerered more than 60 cases of rights abuses against women journalists reporting about women’s rights in more than 20 countries 

Ilang Ilang Quijano

In the report Women’s Rights: Forbidden Subject, released on International Women’s Day, RSF turned the spotlight on female journalists who have been covering women’s issues who have faced various forms of violence, such as murder, imprisonment, verbal attacks, physical attacks and online aggression. Online harassment now constitutes more than 40% of the cases registered from 2016 to 2017.

 

“Censorship, harassment, threats and attacks all take a dramatic toll on journalists…many are forced to abandon the profession or even flee abroad for safety reasons. But despite the threats, many other journalists have redoubled their efforts in defence of freedom of expression,” the RSF report said.

 

Egyptian journalist and safety trainor Abeer Saady, Vice-President of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), was quoted several times in the report explaining the context of such violence against women journalists.

 

The report highlighted two recent murders of women journalists: Miroslava Breach in Northern Mexico and Gauri Lankesh in Southern India. Breach, shot and killed on March 2017, had been covering organized crime in the state of Chihuahua, particularly the murders of women in Ciudad Juarez, for the past 20 years.

 

Lankesh, a 55-year-old editor of a feminist weekly, was shot in her home on September 2017. She had openly criticized the Hindu nationalist government, accusing it of defending a “system of hierarchy in society” in which “women are treated as second-class creatures.”

 

In the report Saady described the killings as “premeditated executions.” “Journalists can be shot in cold blood, even when they are not in the battlefield,” she said.

 

The RSF report identified three groups of leading perpetrators of crimes against women journalists covering women’s rights: religious groups, criminal organizations, and autocratic governments.

 

It was noted that such crimes are also done with impunity. This marked failure by local and national authorities to respond appropriately to crimes of violence against women journalists is tantamount to encouraging the perpetrators to continue, according to the RSF.

 

Murders constitute 12.2% of the abuses against women journalists, while the rest of the attacks are imprisonment (13.4%), with cyber-violence now rising to 43.8% of attacks, and various other forms of attack at 28%.

 

RSF has registered more than 20 cases of verbal, physical, or sexual attacks in connection with coverage of women’s issues during the past eight years. Mae Azango, a Liberian journalist who writes about genital mutilation, received telephone death threats. Sajeev Gopalan, an Indian journalist, was attacked in her home after writing about two young girls who were sexually assaulted by the police.

 

RSF RECOMMENDATIONS

For news organizations

• Promote coverage of women’s rights • Take account of the specific needs of covering women’s issues • Ensure that journalists are aware of gender practices • Take initiatives to create gender-related positions (e.g the New York Times created the positon of a gender editor in October 2017) • Take account of the specific nature of attacks on journalists – mainly women journalists – who cover stories related to women’s rights • Establish an internal emergency procedure for cases of threats • Take screen shots of threatening messages on social networks • Do not hesitate to report threats or attacks to the authorities

For journalists

• Get to know your subject matter in order to be able to evaluate the dangers before going into the field • Find out about cultural and social practices in the country where you are going, how journalists are perceived and what security is like on the ground • Decide together with your editors who is the best person to cover this kind of story: man/woman • Try to work in a team when in dangerous places • Ensure that sources are protected • Delete all information of personal nature from laptops, smartphones and tablets • Secure professional data that could compromise you or your sources • Ensure that stories are not published until you have left areas controlled by militias or armed groups to avoid being spotted

Alarmingly there are increasingly violent and sexist online threats to women journalists. Anita Sarkeesian, a Canadian blogger critical of the way women are portrayed in video games, was the target of a hate campaign, which included receiving pornographic drawings showing her being raped by video game characters.

 

In total, RSF has registered 39 cases of cyber-violence, by far it is the most common form of abuse suffered by journalists covering women’s issues. Many cases are found in India, the United States, and France.

 

Authoritarian governments were found most likely to charge women journalists with defamation or to imprison them in an attempt to cow them into silence. For instance, in Somalia, the government imposes a complete blackout on women’s issues, especially sexual violence. Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, a reporter who interviewed a woman raped by Somali government security officers at a refugee camp in Mogadishu was sentenced to a year in prison.

 

Because of the repression and threats faced in their home countries, many journalists are also forced to quit the profession or go abroad into exile. According to the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ), around 100 women journalist have given up their jobs because of mounting pressure from radical Islamic groups. Meanwhile, the RSF has registered an average of two cases a year of journalists fleeing abroad for safety reasons since 2012.

 

To address the systemic violence against women journalists covering women’s rights, the RSF report came up with a list of recommendations to news organizations, individual journalists, governments, the United Nations and other institutions, and online platforms.

 

RSF secretary-general Christophe says “We offer very clear recommendations for ensuring that both halves of humanity enjoy the right to equal treatment by the media everywhere, without which we cannot talk of journalistic freedom and pluralism.”

sheilametoo

Ending violence against women and enhancing women’s representation in and access to the media is a key concern in and around the Commission on the Status of Women in 2018.

With these two areas converging in the form of cyber violence against women and girls (Cyber-VAWG) or technology-related violence against women, IAWRT and Gender Links held a Parallel Event #MetooOnline – Workshopping Solutions to Counter Cyber Violence Against Women on 16 March 2018.

The panel discussed a number of issues affecting women using online media: The un-regulated harassment that, in most cases, goes unnoticed has affected many female journalists negatively. Many women loose interest in journalism as a career, others have been psychologically or physiologically affected, due to the ongoing vigorous and sometime planned humiliation and abuse.  Some journalists have lost their personal reputation and dignity  (which is crucial to survival in some cultures) and others have lost their privacy. Therefore this affects the media industry as a whole, and practical solutions are needed.

The panel highlighted key solutions which included:

 Start a movement of women to support women using online media

 Strengthen the positive movements acting about the violence against women

 Governments should establish online regulation for the safety of journalists on and offline. Both local and international regulation is paramount

 Media houses have a responsibility to support their female journalists or media workers against such abuse.

 Gender sensitive language should be encouraged

 Start a campaign on supporting women journalists working online

The extremely attentive and participative audience. came up with many solutions which fell basically into three categories – early education, legislation for punishment and responsibility of owners/publishers.
 

 

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IAWRT has already been involved in several workshops at this year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) being held in New York,  joining the discussion on the #MeToo campaign and issues of online harassment and violence against women in media.

The CSW is meeting at the United Nations to form guidelines on policies on rural women and to review the progress on women’s role in and on the media. NGO’s like IAWRT are participating in hundreds of parallel events and side events in the UN this year 

IAWRT President Violet Gonda, an award-winning journalist who recently returned home to Zimbabwe after 17 years in exile, says “Even though the Beijing Platform for Action has a mandate on women and the media, this has never been implemented.” Delegates have also used this opportunity to raise awareness about the Safety Handbook for Women Journalists and raise the issues of gender representation and safety for women in media.

IAWRT is involved with six separate events being held in tandem with the CSW, and the immediate past President Gunilla Ivarsson is moderating a GAMAG session on policies and research in Gender and Media.

CSW Observations

Beyond A Pretty Face: Tackling Gender Bias In Media Industries organised by IAWRT_USA and Zonta International

Panelists from From Left: Sonja Honig Zonta International, Dr. Michelle Ferrier, Professor and founder of Trollbusters, Patricia Siera Sampson, Voice Latina, Dr. Diana Nastasia, Gender researcher/IAWRT USA, Vanessa Tyler, WPIX reporter, Kerry Lindeque, Youth Women’s Alliance.

by Sarah Nakibukka

The panel discussed a number of issues ranging from the negative portrayal of women in the media, to the #MeToo campaign and the online media. Below, some nighlights of the key issues emerging from the discussions.

Impressions on the portrayal of women in the media.

  • Recent reports indicate that there is progress in women’s empowerment and portrayal as a result of media support. A lot has happened from the 1950’s to the 1990’s up until the present day. Women in the 50’s were portrayed mostly as house wives and the trends have improved through the 90’s and now where we see more women portrayed as media managers.
  •  Despite that improvement, the numbers of women heard, read about or seen in the media, is not improving. According to the most recent global monitoring statistics, media women numbers have been stagnant at around 24%.
  •  The number of women journalists keeps going down despite the fact that a number of them study journalism. This is because women prefer to do public relations work, rather than journalism. Cultural influence and society pressures keeps the Journalists away from their career.
  •  Journalists should be sensitized about their cultures and should appreciate their role in the empowerment of women. This would go a long way in establishing “Sustainable Media”
  •  We now need to strengthen and improve on the numbers of women in leadership / managerial positions to enable them to control content fully to curb existing negative portrayals.
  •  Media can be an agent of change and should be able to tell their stories appropriately. “You cannot be what you cannot say.”
  •  If women are to succeed, economic empowerment is key, women should seek mentorship, go for the relevant training courses and support each other.
  •  We need to hold people accountable for negative reporting

What is your take on the #Metoo Campaign?

  •  This campaign helps the women in the media and advocates to reflect on the progress made for women and come up with solutions.
  •  It helps us understand the role of various stakeholders if we are to achieve success. We need our own families to be involved right from childhood to understand their cultures. Unless this is done, there will not be appreciation of our cultures and the stereotypes will continue.
  •  Unless we start to love our societies and cultures, then we can not do much. Let us start by loving ourselves. “we cannot go far unless we work together”
  •  This campaign has some positive achievements. We now see women being profiled in powerful sectors like mining, and women in some powerful positions. These types of stories need to continue.
  •  Universities and colleges need to integrate issues of gender mainstreaming in their curriculum. We need to push for gender representation in all circles and diverse representation of women in the media.

What is your experience regarding online media?

  •  Online media is a good platform but a number of women have had serious issues with it. Lots of women have been pushed away from their careers on social media with lots of abuse and embarrassments. And the litigation process is too costly and time consuming.  We need clear regulations on online media. Governments, media managers and policy makers need serious engagement on this matter.

Media and Information Technologies: A Double-edged Sword for Women’s Advancement

 live on Facebook  International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) This parallel session was organized by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) and the Committee to protect Journalists (CPJ).

  • “I cried a lot when I was first called me a prostitute … I wrote about it. I became really powerful. If defending human rights means I am a prostitute, I am a prostitute.”  I filmed myself crying, dancing, showing my hair – what scares the government of Iran? –  I started ‘My Stealthy Freedom’. and have a million followers. recently a million women in Iran have taken off the headscarves they are forced to wear and waved them on a stick. “They kicked me out of my country, but I found a window.” Exiled Iranian Journalist – Masih Alinejad
  • “you can be killed for reporting on women’s menstruation, an ordinary every day thing – about girls not having access to sanitary napkins for that you can be killed in some countries.” IAWRT’s Sheila Sheila Dallas-Katzman
  • “It is really awful out there, both in the real world and the virtual word. I have been called an ugly lying whore, an Islamic terror bitch, a Zionist agent.” Mona Eltahawy says she was targeted by Egyptian Riot Police in 2011 during a demonstration and physically and sexually assaulted. last year (2017) Egyptian newspapers reprinted a picture of her with broken arms from that assault because she described the US President Donald Trump as a fascist in the same vein as the Egyptian leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. It was designed to send a message “we did this to you but we can do it again.” Egyptian New York Times Journalist: Mona Eltahawy 
  • Humour and mockery can be powerful but can be signing a death sentence. Women can take their headscarves off in Iran but they can’t be left standing alone.  There are way more avenues more to abuse women. The state won’t use sexual slurs against male journalists. I grew up coming home to graffiti being spay painted on the family house, I though it was normal. we should not accept it as normal it is just the first step before physical violence. Digital abuse must not be accepted as a normal part of work it wears one down. We must take action against it use legal avenues. Matthew Caruana Galizia, Pulitzer winner, son of murdered journalist, Daphne Caruan Galiza
  • We are hearing a lot from women wo are speaking out who are retaliating but there a lot of women who are silenced. There is a real defensive position by newsroom to our survey on harassment one HR person said it might create the expectation of a solution if we hand out the survey. They are not alone “There may be a don’t ask don’t tell policy. This is a threat to the news industry as a whole. It is not easy but there are solutions. IWMF’s Nadine Hoffman
  • companies like Twitter want to do something – but do not understand the scale of the problem –  there is a lot of good work but no one central repository. Many trying to give uses more control of privacy but could be double edged sword hiding or blocking threats as CPJ finds that journalist killings are preceded by threats and abuse. Global social media has trouble identifying threats according to each culture. however, they are definitely not doing enough an released in data. CPJ advocacy director, Courtney Radsch, 

The main IAWRT workshop, #Metooonline – Workshopping Solutions to Counter Cyber Violence Against Women to be held soon is aimed at creating guidelines for media organizations to protect female journalists. IAWRT is calling for the creation of robust industry-wide guidelines on how media organizations should protect their female employees from sexualized and/or gender cyber violence. Discussion in the IAWRT – Genderlinks event aims to kickstart the process of getting the media industry to put such protections in place. 

For the first time, IAWRT delegates will be involved in three Side Events in UN headquarters. Abeer Saady, the author of the safety handbook and Chair of the IAWRT CSW organising committee, says partnering with like-minded NGO’s, “has enabled us to present and participate in an unprecedented number of events” (Side events involve government representatives collaborating with NGOs to present a topic speaking directly to governments).

Abeer, who is the IAWRT Vice President and a journalist safety trainer has accepted an invitation to join a panel at the UNESCO side event, A Dent in Democracy: how on and offline attacks on women journalists are hurting us all, which will highlight the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the issue of impunity.

The IAWRT Gender Links joint side event, Making Information and Communication Technologies Work for Gender Justice will workshop solutions to cyber violence problems, such as hacking targeting female journalists and attempts to destroy reputations. A digital gender and media-monitoring tool, developed by Gender Links, with assistance from Free Press Unlimited, will be presented.

IAWRT’s radio experts will be at a side event to speak to the CSW’s main theme rural women and girls. ‘The event, organised with the UN Department of Public Information, is Community media broadcasters: Building capacities for amplifying voices of rural women will include IAWRT board member, Archana Kapoor, an Indian community radio leader, and Sheila Katzman (former UN Chief of UN Radio and Public Information at DPKO).

Reports and live streams from our delegates are on our Facebook group International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT), on Twitter #CSW62 @iawrt and here, iawrt.org.

CSW Delegates Photo essay.

By Nancy Cohen

The Festival provides women of Asian origin with a platform to display their creativity in different genres. 72 films from 19 countries were screened.

Debasrita Chakraborty

Besides the annual film screenings held at the India International Centre, New Delhi. seminars, discussions, and workshops are also a big part of the festival. More importantly, this platform makes space for the ‘feminist perspective’ in conversations and discussions‎ around the different films screened and other social issues. Today, this festival has become an important event in the cultural calendar, it is socially relevant and unique as it provides a platform that transcends boundaries. 

 

A four day long camera and sound workshop was conducted by Fowzia Fathima, Shalini Agarwal from March 4, with an orientation on aesthetics of handling a camera and techniques of sound design.

This year ‘Filmy Adda’ sessions were introduced at the festival. The first fillmy Adda was with Nupur Basu on ‘Pitching for Documentaries – Getting that win-win combination’ followed by a session with Nina Sabnani on ‘Animated Documentaries’  on the second day of the festival and the last Adda session was with Paromita Vohra on ‘Use of New Media for making a feminist art intervention to give sex a good name’.

Two engaging seminars were also organised  – ‘Weaving Peace’ – A Women’s Perspective seminar on contemporary issues and challenges. Meenakshi Gopinath was in conversation with Lubna Sayed Quadir, Rosemary Dzuvichu, Sumona Dasgupta. The second seminar was titled  ‘Voice Studio’ – A dialogue among youth to explore ways toward a democratic discourse’. Young leaders across India took part in this session and shared their stories. Women’s rights activist and documentary filmmaker Vani Subramaniam was in conversation with Prajakta Shete, Shirisha Vepoor, Lubna Irfan, Sabika Abbas Naqvi ,Ushasi Pal, Satarupa Chakraborty, Suresh Gothra (Sarpanch- head of a Panchayat) and young ladies from Rewari (Haryana,India) – Sujata, Ekta, Nikita, Pakhi, Tannu, Usha Chauhan.

  

Eminent scholar of Asian Cinema Aruna Vasudev, leading scholar of classical Indian dance, Indian art and architecture Dr. Kapila Vyatsayan and Indian developmental feminist activist, poet, author and social scientist Kamla Bhasin were felicitated on the opening night of the festival.

The traditional group picture at the inaugural function of the 14th Asian Women’s Film Festival. IAWRT Trustees, Members, Supporters, Volunteers in a single frame. and student volunteers from Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan, with Man Booker Prize winner, author Arundhati Roy at the  Festival.Lastly, festival director Aradhana Kohli Kapur and Managing Trustee-IAWRT India, Archana Kapoor in a frame. 

   

Interactive sessions with film-makers and curators from different countries.

Animation stills from the Korean Package. and the closing ceremony of the 14th edition of‎  IAWRT Asian Women ‘s Film Festival.

 

 

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A major form of infotainment raising issues of social stigma 

Debasrita Chakraborty

“Radio is nostalgia”, said Ms. Basudha Banerji, Programme Executive, AIR (All India Radio)  at the Radio Festival to celebrate World Radio Day 2018 at UNESCO house, New Delhi.

 It was organised on February 13, 2018, by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) in collaboration with UNESCO. It brought together the three main tiers of broadcasting – public, private, and community along with independent podcasters. 

Well-known voices from the Indian Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, All India Radio (AIR), private FM, community radios, along with stakeholders from the Industry, and people from the NGO Sector attended the daylong festival.

The festival was described as “a unique and inclusive forum of radio, podcasters, and others engaged in digital audio offerings, which created an opportunity to showcase and share the experiences, technology, innovation, and plans for the future ” by one of the initiators of the event – Archana Kapoor, Managing Trustee of the Radio Festival and community media broadcaster.

The concept of celebrating the power of sound and gathering the different voices in one platform was a joint initiative involving herself and Pinky Chandran, radio practitioner and communication expert, and independent media consultant Rukmini Vemraju.

Mr.Al-Amin Yusuph, Advisor (Communication and information), UNESCO, New Delhi, described the “The radio festival is a very innovative idea for what is a democratising medium.

Radio was the first electronic gadget that played a prominent role in communication. Undoubtedly, it is one of the major media for broadcasting drama, stories, commentary programmes, sports news, educational programmes.

“It has a lot of impact as this is the first time all the three tiers of radio, public, community and private are on the same platform discussing the importance of changes in radio from various perspective. Moreover, they have pledged for further collaboration, which is a good thing in the media sector to tackle the difficulties they are facing.”

 “For me radio is a platform for peaceful participation for the citizen in democratise discussions especially on development expressing their feelings, Desires, and concerns,” he added.

The highlights of the festival were the six interactive and demonstrative sessions on sports, importance of podcast in raising social issues, technology, musical journey of radio, impact on society through storytelling, media convergence, creativity, radio as a tool for infotainment and the role of radio to break the stereotype thoughts among people on domestic violence, and menstruation. 

While speaking at the ‘Radio and Sports – Challenges and Opportunities’, Athlete Bhupender Singh said, “I once came across my father watching a sport match on television which was on mute and listening to the same match’s live commentary on the radio. This is the power of radio.”

Discussing social change through radio stories, RJ Sayema Rahman Radio Mirchi spoke about why she chooses to host a storytelling show on the radio in which she reads tales written by Saadat Hasan Manto and the relevance of his writings in today’s Indian social structure.  

Talking about creativity RJ Sachin, Red FM said that creativity should be “simple and impactful.”

Ms. Aisha George, Executive Coordination of Hidden Pockets Collections elaborated the importance of podcast to bring out social issues in schools. Through a program titled pocket shala, she reaches out to the school students and teachers. 

RJ Praveen spoke about how radio reaches to every nook and corner of the workplace.

Other interactive sessions were on different areas of radio, like sports, technology, the musical journey of radio, media convergence, creativity, radio as a tool for infotainment.

 “Radio means almost everything to me,” Ms. Basudha Banerji, said, “When I joined radio in early 90’s, Doordarshan (ALL India TV) was a more glamorous cousin. I produce radio documentaries and features. I used to get many offers to join the television but I denied all saying, ‘the best picture is on the radio’. That is why I like radio storytelling.”

 

 
Shiela Katzman_0

Sheila Katzman,IAWRT- USA Chapter President one of 22 Champion of Change for 2018.

The 22 women and men are being honoured as Champions, as they “have made significant contributions to women’s empowerment and gender equality in their professional and personal lives.”

Introduced in October 2017, the Champions of Change campaign recognizes people who have made an impact on a wide range of issues, including women’s economic and political empowerment, gender-based violence, peace and security, and sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Katzman is a women’s rights advocate and media trainer, and is IAWRT’s main representative to the UN. She was a reporter for the Women’s International Newsgathering Service (WINGS) for 14 years.

She is currently the chair of NYC4CEDAW, a volunteer coalition of community organizations, international NGOs, city officials, professionals, and students who are working to push for laws and policies that advance equality for women and address all forms of gender discrimination. Under her leadership since 2014, NYC4CEDAW has made significant gains in pushing for equal pay for equal work, stopping violence against women and girls (including domestic and intimate-partner violence), and health, education, and social services responsive to specific needs of women and girls.

Katzman, a drama and social radio practitioner, is also a artistic director of Ten Lanterns Transformative Theatre. Ten Lanterns conducts community workshops using theatre arts and drama processes as tools for change.

The 2018 Champions for Change was announced by UN Women on International Women’s Day. The awarding ceremony will be held in May.

IMG-Violet returns

Journalist, Violet Gonda returns to Zimbabwe after 17 years in exile

Nonee Walsh

In August 2000, Violet Gonda left her home country to study for an MA in International Journalism in London. She expected it would be for one year. However, she was to spend the next 17 years in exile as a result of being banned from returning to Zimbabwe by President Robert Mugabe’s regime. 

But she found that her media work in exile meant that she was not a stranger to many Zimbabweans.

In January this year (2018) she was able to return home because the unthinkable had happened. After being in power for 37 years, 93-year-old Robert Mugabe was finally forced to resign. “It happened so fast. I never thought this day would come. I had spent almost two decades exposing Mugabe’s excesses but when he was finally removed from power, I was in the Philippines at the IAWRT Biennial conference” Violet said. 

In 2017 Violet closely followed Robert Mugabe’s departure and pondered Zimbabwe’s future.

“I had spent almost two decades exposing Mugabe’s excesses but when he was finally removed from power, I was far away in the Philippines.” I was glued to my phone and tweeting like crazy as we watched via social media a ‘soft coup’ unfold. With little news coming from the state broadcaster, people took to social media platforms to air their views as the tug of war between Mugabe and the military continued. It was dramatic. And was the politest coup ever.  Despite being surrounded by the military, Mugabe still refused to resign and was even allowed to pose for pictures with the service chiefs and capped students at the University of Zimbabwe graduation ceremony.

On November 18th the unthinkable happened. Mugabe was shown the ‘red card’ by unlikely allies – civilians and soldiers, who have in the past brutalised the population to keep Mugabe in power. Such was the euphoria, that social media was awash with pictures of ordinary people embracing members of the military in an outpouring of elation at Mugabe’s demise.

Newspaper mogul Trevor Ncube tweeted: “Dear world, we are fully aware of the possible risks and pitfalls beyond this tipping point. We are confident we are equal to the challenges. We remember Egypt too. After 37 years of repression, allow us to soak in this moment. Sincerely, #Zimbabwe.”

Still, Mugabe refused to step down, but pressure continued to mount on him and he was stripped of his leadership positions in the ruling party. His wife, ‘Gucci’ Grace and their G40 faction were booted out of the ZANUUPF party.  He even read a speech surrounded by the same military…. And he still refused to resign. It was only on November 21st when the parliament of Zimbabwe moved to impeach him that he finally submitted his resignation letter.

Mugabe was removed from power by the same ruling party and military that had declared he would be life president, with his wife stating that even if he died people would still vote for his decomposing body!

In one of the ironies of this story, she was elected President of this organisation in the same week, having been a valued member since 1997.

Violet was already an activist for media freedom when she left Zimbabwe in 2000, she worked for a video/film production company, which produced political documentaries which would not be broadcast on the heavily censored Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). At Edwina Spicer Productions, the team travelled out to villages for community showings and began monitoring the ethical standards of Zimbabwe’s media. This was the start of the Media Monitoring Project of Zimbabwe (MMPZ)

Within a year or so, Mugabe’s media crackdown intensified, with intimidation of journalists, arrests and beatings leading to her colleague, Gerry Jackson, relocating to London, where SW Radio Africa was set up to broadcast back into Zimbabwe in December 2001.

Violet became one of the six journalists at the radio station which covered the ongoing political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe. Their broadcasts telling the stories of the oppression of Zimbabweans, in defiance of the extreme censorship of Mugabe, led to all six being barred from returning.

Those broadcasts about protests and attacks by ruling party supporters or the military on supporters of the then opposition led by Morgan Tsvangirai, were virtually the only news Zimbabweans heard about what was really happening. “It was so hard listeningthe stories of rape and torture and killings told by the people brave enough to call us” she says. Audio report about Violet and SW Radio broadcasts in 2005.

Violet returns to Zimbabwe

At the beginning of this year she arrived at Harare Airport. “It was an emotional homecoming. As I arrived at the airport I felt like a stranger. I had to show my British Passport.” Her Zimbabwean passport is yet to be renewed.  Despite the freedom of being able to return to see her extended family, she bore the weight of loss, but found an unexpected intimacy with strangers, with a little irony thrown into the mix. pic:reunited with her first boss Edwina Spicer in Harare

Over the years in exile, Violet also had to bear the weight of guilt she felt over how much her reporting contributed to some of her family members being victimised.  “Zimbabwe might be home” Violet says “but is also a land of painful separation and personal tragedy.” Ultimately, she says she must grapple with a place she calls home which has greatly changed in the last 17 years.

After SW Radio, Violet studied and worked for Voice of America – Studio 7 in Washington DC and was in demand internationally as an expert reporter on Zimbabwe’s political crisis, while in exile in the UK, the USA and South Africa. She also worked with a small group to launch 1st TV from South Africa. “This was a cheeky and highly successful short-term free-to-air television station that sought to bring accurate news and information to Zimbabweans in the 2013 election” she says.  

She utilised social media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, and recently set up web broadcasts on Hotseat with Violet Gonda, which features long form interviews as critical analysis of Zimbabwe as a country not returned to democracy.

So, she was no stranger to the immigration officer who viewed her British passport at Harare airport in January 2018.

“He immediately recognised me and said, ‘I hope you are not intending to produce journalism while you are here’, he sternly added, ‘because if you do, you must register with the government and get a license’. Of course not, I told him.” (The changing of the guard to President Emmerson Mnangagwa of the ruling ZANU-PF party has not led to the removal of a multitude of statutes hindering freedom of expression in the media).

In general, though Violet had hoped to lay low in Harare, and surprise her extended family, back in Mutare, Manicaland, in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe.  But it was not to be.  “They found out I was back in the country when advertisements about a public debate programme I was going to launch was aired on television and radio,” An NGO supporting democratic process, known as the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN)  had signed up Violet to host their ‘Making Elections Make Sense’ dialogue series for this election year and they were paying to advertise on ZBC.

 

 

Violet laughs about those advertisement being aired on ZBC – which she delights in referring to as “the Dead BC” –  the local joke on how censorship makes it hardly worth listening to, or watching.  “The irony of it was in the way the original ban on us returning to Zimbabwe was announced by ZBC “We were described as pirates and enemies of the state …  and 17 years later the state controlled broadcaster actually is adverting , effectively announcing my return home!” 

“All these years, I had no idea of the impact our broadcasts had. I was surprised by the welcome from total strangers. Even the man wrapping my baggage at the airport recognised my name from my SW Radio Africa days and welcomed me back.”

The streets, however, were not the same, they were full of potholes, and major corporations have deserted the city centre, while the elite retreat to leafy suburbs with armed guards at the doors of their shopping centres. “ATM’s can’t dispense more than 20-dollars a day, the once vibrant Zimbabwe middle class is nearing extinction.

“Zimbabwe is still beautiful, sadly the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.”  

When she arrived home to Mutare after almost two decades to hug her grandmothers now in their 90’s, it seems they had also been doing a little advertising too.  She relates the story of when the announcement of Robert Mugabe’s resignation came through, her paternal grandmother called a prayer meeting with the neighbours to give thanks.  “She was crying and saying Mugabe is gone now. Vee (Nickname) can come home now. I will get to see my granddaughter before I die.” 

Then she went to her maternal grandmother’s farm just outside Mutare. “It was a journey that was beautiful and painful at the same time as it included a visit to the graveyard where a line of deceased aunts and uncles who died lay.  In my culture aunties and uncles are just like our parents, and I was not there for them.”

pics: reunited – maternal grandmother left and paternal right

“Robert Mugabe really robbed us, especially when it comes to family.” 

Violet has now hosted two election discussions in Harare since January – on the elections and on the state of the parties and the prospect of credible fair elections. She has also moderated a panel discussion on the new president’s first 100 days.

The true test of this new government’s return to democracy will be seen in the level of tolerance shown, as journalists like Violet tackle critical issues on elections and highly sensitive political issues.

“I need to be home for multiple reasons: for my country, as a journalist, and for myself. For 17 years, I have only been able to visit home in my dreams. But I was watching history being made, via my mobile phone, in the Philippines. It was an extraordinary and exhilarating feeling, following those fast-moving events, yet not knowing how it would all turn out, and being a part of it”, she says.

“Clearly there was a lot more going on around the ‘soft-coup’, about which I can only guess. What private deals were being made that now affect my country’s future, and millions of Zimbabweans overseas?”

Was it a national revolution, or just ‘more of the same’ she asks?

Once in a phone interview, Mugabe’s spokesperson, George Charamba, threatened to shoot Violet for pressing him about media reforms. “So I want to test the levels of reforms and tolerance for an open media landscape. This is key for Zimbabwe’s democratic future, for a government working for all the people, not just the privileged few.”

Most of all, I want to see my relatives, and breathe the fresh air of home.”

 

 

 

In celebration of International Women’s Day, the International Association of Women in Radio and Television – Philippines chapter will hold a forum that aims to promote a discussion between students and professional women in media.

Women in Communication and Press Freedom: Forum on Courageous Women Seeking and Speaking the Truth in the Midst of Uncertainty,” will be held on March 8, 1 to 5 p.m. at Miriam College. Miriam College is a Filipino Catholic educational institution for girls and young women in Quezon City, Philippines.

Distinguished speakers for the forum are:

  • Elizabeth Judith Panelo of Bayan Mo, iPatrol Mo, TV network ABS-CBN’s citizen journalism arm
  • Camille Abadicio, news reporter of CNN Philippines
  • Menchie Silvestre, executive director of Alagang Kapatid Foundation

This event organized by IAWRT-Philippines aims to promote a discussion between students and professional women in media on how citizens can utilize communication tools in the service of truth-telling.

 

 

 

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Myanmar’s neighbourins are left struggliing with hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees. Now they could be forced to go home.

Debasrita Chakraborty 

India has a large population of Rohingya refugees spread all across the country in search of basic amenities. While Bangladesh receives the largest number, estimated to be 655,000 to 700,000, while India is trying has not less than 40,000 Rohingya refugees, to deal with.

The reality of what these numbers can mean is starkly presented to me a few kilometers before the city of Nuh in north-west India. There is an open field right behind the Mewat Development Area Transit Hostel, and a few tents, occupied by Rohingya refugees. The tents, with black tarpaulin roofs and walls, stand on makeshift frames of bamboo and wood; there is no permanency in these houses. Their tenements serve as a bitter analogy for the circumstances that the ethnic group finds itself in: forced to leave their homeland in Myanmar.

Nuh, the city and the district, was earlier called Mewat—the home of the Meo Muslims, (Meo – also called Mewati – is a Muslim community from North-Western India, in Rajasthan.

The Rohingya people came to Nuh as early as 2012, when it was still called Mewat, in the hope of finding a home amidst a community of fellow Muslims. They set up their houses on this land, which was given to them by members of the community. However, now they are now to be ousted from India.

 

Generation after generation of Rohingyas have been subject to subject to restrictions on movement and everyday life by successive governments in Myanmar – the community has been living in inhumane conditions, “To get married we had to take permission and bribe the administration. To get birth certificates too, we have to offer a bribe. We had land and [now] we have no right to it,” said Abdul, a middle-aged Rohingya refugee putting up in Nuh.

In an attempt to escape the barbaric conditions of their homeland, thousands of Rohingya Muslims cross the border every day and find their way to different refugee camps mainly in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazaar.

Many of them lose their lives in the process. Now reports are emerging that the Myanmar Army is laying landmines along the border with Bangladesh to maim, kill or deter the fleeing Rohingyas.

Violence is not new to the Rohingyas, but this time the retaliation by the military was on a huge scale. Several villages were set ablaze and, according to reports, thousands of people are left stranded in mountainous regions without food or water. Recently an exclusive investigation by the Associated Press news agency reported that many Rohingya villagers in Myanmar were massacred and buried in five mass graves.

With an initial hesitation, a couple of women also came up to speak. “I came here with my entire family, there were 10 of us. We landed up in Bangladesh but it was overpopulated so we decided to come here in India. We went to Jammu first and then came to Mewat,” said Shophika, a mother of three. Many like her have found their way to Mewat, looking for a better place, and currently, there are 327 families who live in six settlements in Nuh. “We travelled not knowing anything about India, only in search of acceptance, peace, and shelter,” she continued.

Many have braved much adversity to find refuge in India. They crossed borders by bribing officials and travelled on foot through heat, rain, and cold. “.. But now we hear that 40,000 Rohingyas should be thrown out,” said Ali Johar.

The bulk of Rohingyas have found their way to different refugee camps in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazaar. Thousands of Rohingya women of and children fear for their safety. There are no authorities to reach for official guidance and support.

Findings of a joint nutrition assessment conducted in October shows that, ‘over 3/4 of the surveyed population relies on food security coping strategies, including opting for less preferred and less expensive foods (90%), reducing number of meals eaten in a day (69%), and restricting consumption by adults in order for small children to eat (68%).’ Nearly one-third of families surveyed reported open defecation due to a lack of sanitation facilities, and the cleanliness of public latrines. where available, was one major concern.

Children are living in filthy conditions with barely enough food, clean water, and healthcare. There are acute malnutrition rates among child refugees under five, Many are underweight and suffering from anemia. And there is a high risk of diarrhea, dysentery, measles, respiratory infections and an expected rise in children suffering from mental health issues.

Many young Rohingya girls are being forced to marry simply to secure more food for themselves and their families. Drawing global attention to the Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh, goodwill ambassador of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), actress and philanthropist, Kristin Davis said, “This is currently the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world and seeing the impact of this emergency on children is devastating.”

Back in North-west India , a middle aged  refugee ,Ali Johar tells me “We came here with the idea of living. In Rakhine, we were told that even animals are treated with dignity in India.” In the areas around Nuh, the Rohingya people do not have access to electricity, potable water or even sanitation, but this life, according to him, is more dignified than what they would have anywhere else.  For general health services, there is one primary health care at Nuh but for major illnesses and maternal health services, most of the people go to a Medical college hospital at Nalhad, which is 4 km away, while mostly the Rohingyas here opt for home delivery. “We are often made to wait aside for treatment but still we get it even if it is after the locals. In Myanmar we are left to die,” says Sader Khan.

In fact, in India, Rohingyas are treated as second-class refugees, they are constantly pushed to the margins and denied basic human rights. Johar said, “We have to live by a code. In July 2013, six girls got married to local people here. Following which we were called to the SP office and they asked us to stop getting Rohingya women married to the locals and asked for the number of women we had married to the Meos. There is a list of conditions that we have to abide by, at least 16-17 of them. It is written in English, Urdu, Rohingya language. We were made to sign that before getting our refugee cards.”

 “A few of us had Aadhar (12-digit unique identity number issued to all Indian residents based on their biometric and demographic data) but we were asked to return them… Due to lack of certified identification, our children are not registered in schools. Their future worries me a lot,” said Ali Johar. 

The lack of documents and the lack of safeguards has left them at the mercy of the local community. However, in the face of the threat of deportation, these are secondary concerns.

Sanjoy Hazarika, director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, says the government is entitled to take decisions. “But now, it’s a question of humanity. However, if they are being deported then the point is, where will they be deported to? Myanmar does not recognise them, and they are certainly not from Bangladesh, Nepal or Pakistan. Also, there is a belief that these people are a threat but most of them are simple refugees. If the government has any specific knowledge of any particular threat, then it should clarify.”

Many reasons are being attributed to the government of India’s sudden aggressive pro-deportation stand on the Rohingyas. Some government officials have expressed concerns about violent extremism which has lead to greater community fears around this particular community alleged connections to terror groups. International communities have condemned the sudden decision of the Indian Government.

 On September 5, 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook his maiden trip to Myanmar. India is urgently trying to counter Chinese influence in the region, and not opposing the recent spate of violence against Rohingya Muslims might help Modi earn brownie points, which could translate into clinching major infrastructure projects in Myanmar. China too has remained silent on the issue, . While this is at best speculation, the timing of the crackdown is suspicious.

Even though in early January 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to complete within two years the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled an army crackdown last year in Myanmar, fear does not seem to fade. Statements from the Myanmar and Bangladesh foreign minister said Bangladesh would set up five transit camps on its side of the border. Those camps would send Rohingyas to two reception centres in Myanmar. The repatriation process did not start even after a month of the agreement.

The Bangladesh statement said: “Myanmar has reiterated its commitment to stop (the) outflow of Myanmar residents to Bangladesh.”

Before we were about to leave Nuh, with a helpless and trembling voice, Ali Johar said, “It is not easy to get jobs as we don’t have aadhaar cards. We try to get daily wage work. It is also not possible to stay away from the family because there is also a constant fear and insecurity. There is no peace of mind.”

This article was adapted from an article published by the Hardnews Magazine, Delhi.