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Asia round-up: Women march, and much more

As women commemorated International Women's Day on 8 March, the reality on the ground in Asia was one of bold women journalists and human rights defenders battling multiple forms of discrimination and intimidation. This month's round up presents a snapshot of the challenges that women in the media face.

Young women work at the first Internet cafe for women in Kabul, Afghanistan, 8 March 2012
Young women work at the first Internet cafe for women in Kabul, Afghanistan, 8 March 2012

REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

In India, investigative journalist Sandhya Ravishankar faced the wrath of online harassment over her reportage on illegal beach sand mining in the state of Tamil Nadu. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the harassment over Twitter, Facebook and blogs began following her four-part series in The Wire, which implicated a mining baron, S. Vaikundarajan, in illegal sand mining. Among others, her mobile number was published on social media, and social media trolls threatened her with physical and sexual violence. Ravishankar had first exposed the story in 2013 while working for Times Now and later, the Economic Times. Both the outlets and Ravishankar have faced legal actions from the mining company, VV Mineral. Another journalist, Ilangovan Rakasekaran, said he was also subject to threats when he reported on the environmental impact of sand mining in 1995.

In this interview with Nakheeran (in Tamil), she explains the threats she received.

The extent of sexism and misogyny affecting women journalists in India has been well documented, and it is said to have worsened with the ease in which information is posted online or via chat apps, shared, and acted upon. Women with strong views are said to experience even more severe backlash, according to a 2013 report by the Internet Democracy Project and Point of View.


Ravishankar's experience is felt by many women journalists across the region. In marking International Women's Day, IFJ Asia-Pacific launched a campaign across Asia Pacific to end online violence against and trolling of women journalists. Through the online #ByteBack campaign, IFJ and its affiliates demanded meaningful action to stop the growth of online harassment of women journalists. "The internet is a vital space of opportunity for gender equality, but it can also present an enormous threat to freedom of expression if left unchecked," it said. Women journalists shared their messages from across the region, where IFJ says it was important to have women join the media to write and voice perspectives on issues that otherwise would not be heard.

In Afghanistan, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) opened the Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists, aimed at combatting different forms of social and material pressure that women face. The centre head, Farida Nikzad, said their priority was to support women working in the remote regions and war zones to defend their rights and their physical safety. RSF noted that social obstacles compounded the security threats, and families tended to prevent women from becoming journalists. Local media watchdog Nai, which supports open media in Afghanistan, was reported as saying that despite the security threats, there has been an increase of women in media by 12 percent over the year. To date, only 17 percent of journalists in the country are represented by women.

In Pakistan, the Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) called on the media industry to promote a safer environment for women to work. Women made up a mere five percent of the media workforce in the country. Against the backdrop of threats against journalists - with Pakistan being one of the most dangerous countries in the world - women also face sexual harassment and violence from within the profession and from society at large, PPF said. It added that many women journalists have experienced threats online, via email and social media. In a report released in December 2016, Digital Rights Foundation detailed the experiences of seven female journalists and the surveillance they faced in the course of their work and in their private spaces.

In Australia, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance commemorated the day to call for equal pay for women. In a study released a year ago, it was found that women in the media sector earned on average, 23% less than their male counterparts.

In memoriam

In China, Human Rights Watch (HRW) country director Sophie Richardson writes about the absence of justice three years after the death of veteran human rights activist and lawyer, Cao Shunli, after being held in detention for several months without access to medical treatment. Cao Shunli was known for demanding the inclusion of inputs from independent civil society into the country's report on human rights to the United Nations. She was arrested in September 2013 as she was heading to Geneva to participate in a human rights training program, and died in detention on 13 March 2014. "To this day, little explanation has been given for her detention and death, no one has been held accountable, and there is no sign on an investigation," Richardson writes. HRW noted that since Cao Shunli's death, the Chinese government has intensified its crackdown on human rights defenders, several of whom are reported being tortured in detention.

In Nepal, the High Court upheld the conviction and sentencing by the Dhanusha district court of three people found guilty of killing journalist Uma Singh on 11 January 2009. Freedom Forum said the decision sends a strong and welcome signal in combating impunity in attacks against journalists. She was attacked by a group of 15 people armed with knives who stabbed her in her home in the Janakpur zone. Media groups said while there may have been a personal motive for the attacks, Uma Singh's journalism in the larger public interest was a major factor in her death. She had worked with the Janakpur Today and Radio Today. The report notes that fewer women than men are subject to deadly attacks, but this could be a reflection of the lower numbers of women journalists covering news.

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