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WOMEN WRITERS SUBJECT TO CENSORSHIP, SMEAR CAMPAIGNS

Nearly three years ago, Yemeni journalist Samia al-Aghbari wrote a story criticising the President's decision to change his mind and stand for re-election. Little did al-Aghbari know how she would pay for her actions. A week later, a pro-government paper published an article alleging that al-Aghbari had "immoral relations" with foreign men. Although al-Aghbari took her case to court and won, the verdict, which included the publication of an apology in the paper, was not enforced. What's worse, the smear campaign undermined al-Aghbari's credibility and reputation - even among her family.

This year on International Women's Day, IFEX members and other rights groups around the world are standing up for women journalists in Yemen, along with other women writers and activists who speak out for their rights in the face of repression.

It is not easy to be a woman working in the media in Yemen, according to a report by ARTICLE 19 in collaboration with the Yemeni Female Media Forum marking International Women's Day.

Critical female journalists are regularly subjected to public slander in rival publications, harassed by the state or censored. In a country with a rigid code of "honour", insults are particularly damaging for women struggling to achieve prominence in their professional life.

If they even choose to go down that path: women are marginalised in the Yemeni media, writing fewer than 20 percent of articles and being sourced only 30 percent of the time, says ARTICLE 19.

ARTICLE 19 is calling on editors and media owners to protect women journalists from slanderous attack, "and to ensure that stories featuring women, reflecting women's experiences and portraying women as fully-fledged members of society are given more prominence."

ARTICLE 19 has also called upon the Yemeni government to ensure that freedom of expression is protected and enhanced, and that all means of censoring the media are immediately stopped. For the full report, visit: http://tinyurl.com/b7mr4b

As part of its Freedom to Write in the Americas campaign, International PEN's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) has profiled four women who continue to write in the face of great personal risk from another part of the world: Latin America.

There's Colombian playwright and activist Patricia Ariza and Peruvian student poet Melissa Patiño, who have been accused of being terrorists because of their alleged collaboration with left-wing groups. Mexican authors and journalists Lydia Cacho and Sanjuana Martínez Montemayor have been harassed as a direct result of their exposés of sexual exploitation and paedophilia.

WiPC is asking you to protest the harassment and demand that they are allowed to live and work freely. Find out more about the writers, including samples of their work and how you can help, here: http://tinyurl.com/bky5rz

Also see WiPC's Freedom to Write in the Americas campaign: http://tinyurl.com/aopdxk

A new report by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says women are portrayed in the media worldwide in stereotypes, such as "the glamorous sex kitten, the sainted mother, the devious witch, the hard-faced corporate and political climber." So how to address gender discrimination in the media?

IFJ, in conjunction with UNESCO, has produced a 60-page booklet that provides guidelines to journalists and unionists on ways of bringing gender equality into the journalism profession mainstream.

Some quick tips: map your workplace to see if women occupy leadership roles. Share your results - "the more publicity, the more likely it is to change mindsets," the guide says. Do a pay audit to find out whether there is a gender pay gap at work. Ask for flexible time at work, which allows a person to choose working hours that suit.

The booklet also looks at the current status of women media professionals, how media reinforce and break down existing stereotypes, and resources and contacts that will help you get the job done. Download the booklet, "Getting the Balance Right: Gender Equality in Journalism", here: http://tinyurl.com/cohofm

The report is one prong of UNESCO's campaign to promote gender equality in the media, "Women Make the News", which entered its ninth year on International Women's Day. UNESCO and IFJ are also inviting journalists and media organisations to exchange experiences and best practices in developing and implementing policies that guarantee equality for female journalists. These policies can be about equal pay and opportunities for promotion, working in conflict zones, gender stereotyping, etc. Have your say on their online forum, open for comment until 15 April, here: http://www.unesco.org/webworld/en/march8

Finally, tune in online to the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) for 24 hours' worth of multilingual programming for women, by women all over the world. Find out how Afghan women are propping up the Afghan economy, or how International Women's Day is celebrated in Central Asia. The best part is, you can rebroadcast a programme on your community radio station for free. See: http://march8.amarc.org

(Photo: Two Yemeni journalists learn how to monitor the media in July 2008. Photo courtesy of ARTICLE 19)

(11 March 2009)

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