This article was published to mark International Women’s Day 2023
Journalists in Afghanistan are facing a very bad situation. The media has been censored. There are many restrictions on women journalists. I have received information that the few female journalists still working in the media are paid so little and they cannot meet their family expenses. Journalists cannot carry out their jobs properly due to fear of the Taliban. They write and publish what the Taliban want.
The number of female journalists in the media is decreasing day by day and they are forced to leave the country. Life is hard in neighbouring countries, but they cannot stay at home.
Hundreds of journalists are staying with their families in Pakistan. I am in contact with many that face a dangerous, unknown fate. Most Afghan journalists’ visas have expired and they are threatened with deportation and imprisonment. They also face economic problems. They have spent the money they brought with them and now cannot afford to eat. The increase in prices in Pakistan and the lack of work permits for Afghan journalists has made life difficult for them and their families. They are very willing to sell their kidneys to cut their daily expenses. If Afghan journalists stay here for a long time, more problems will arise and their freedom will be threatened. They can’t even get treatment in the hospitals because they need visas which most journalists don’t have.
All the doors are closed in front of us. I am asking the British government to open them up. The UK promised to help us and they still can. We once again request that the British government fulfil the promises it has made to Afghan journalists and other people at risk.
Panelists at the OSCE meet on online attacks against journalists: writer Arzu Geybulla; Gavin Rees, Europe director of the Dart Center for journalism and trauma; Becky Gardiner, from Goldsmiths, University of London; journalist Caroline Criado Perez
“This is not something that only ‘ladies’ can fix,” emphasised Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media at an expert meeting on the safety of female journalists in Vienna on 17 September 2015, which Index on Censorship attended.
The importance of collectively tackling the growing problem became an overarching theme of the conference. “There is a new and alarming trend for women journalists and bloggers to be singled out for online harassment,” said Mijatovic, while highlighting the importance of media, state and NGO voices coming together to address the abuse.
Arzu Geybulla and Caroline Criado Perez, journalists from Azerbaijan and the UK respectively, started the meeting with moving testaments of their own experiences. Despite covering very different topics, they have received shockingly similar threats – sexual, violent and personal. “Shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you and choke you with my dick” was one of the messages received by Perez after she campaigned for a woman to feature on British banknotes.
The problem, said Perez, was not just the threats but how the women who receive them are then treated. “Women are accused of being mad or attention seeking, which are all ways of delegitimising women’s speech,” she said. “People told me to stop, close my Twitter account, go offline. But why is the solution to shut up?” She added: “This is a societal problem, not an internet problem.”
“Labelling a person, and making that person an object, is particularly common in Azerbaijan,” said Geybulla, an Azeri journalist and Index on Censorship magazine contributor who was labelled a traitor and viciously targeted online after writing for a Turkish-Armenian newspaper. “Our society is not ready to speak out. You can’t go to the police. The police think it must be your fault.”
The intention of the meeting was to highlight the problem, while also proposing courses of actions. Suggestions included calls for more education in digital literacy; more training for police; more support from editors and media organisations, and from male colleagues. There was some disagreement on whether the laws were robust enough as they stand, or needed an update for the internet age.
Becky Gardiner, formerly editor of Guardian’s Comment is Free section, spoke about how her own views on dealing with online abuse had changed, having initially told writers they should develop a thicker skin. “It is not enough to tell people to get tough. Disarming the comments is not a solution either. That genie is out of the bottle.” Gardiner, who is now a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London, is working on research into the issue, as commissioned by the Guardian’s new editor, Kath Viner.
It was suggested that small but crucial steps could be taken by media organisations to avoid inflammatory and misleading headlines (which are not written by the journalist, but put them in the firing line) and to be careful of exposing inexperienced writers without preparation or support. Sarah Jeong from Vice’s Motherboard plaform said, in her experience, freelancers often came the most under attack because they don’t have institutional backing.
The OSCE said this will be the first in a series of meetings, with the aim of getting more organisations to take it serious and to produce more concrete courses of action.
“An attack on women journalists is an attack on freedom,” says novelist Kaya Genç, in a short video interview ahead of the publication of his article on the intimidation of women journalists in Turkey in the latest Index on Censorship magazine.