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IFEX members on International Women's Day salute women at helm of protests

A woman calls for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign in front of parliament in Cairo on 8 February 2011
A woman calls for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign in front of parliament in Cairo on 8 February 2011

REUTERS via CBC

In the recent uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the region, women could be found front and centre, speaking to the media, organising on Facebook, and leading the protests. Activists such as Sana Ben Achour took grave risks to rally trade union representatives and women's rights advocates in the lead up to the ouster of Tunisia's President in January. "The fear is gone, the people have put away their fear, and I've been waiting 20 years for that day," Achour told ARTICLE 19. On 8 March, women took their voices to the streets in Iran, Egypt and Bahrain, among other countries in the world.

On the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, IFEX members paid tribute to Achour, and other women at the forefront of the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa, along with women journalists, writers and activists who speak out for their rights in the face of repression.

In the wake of Ben Ali's departure, Achour, who is president of the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women (l'Association tunisienne des femmes democrats, ATFD), has not stopped the fight. She led a thousand-strong protest in Tunis to highlight the need to respect women's rights during the transition.

This International Women's Day, members of the IFEX Tunisia Monitoring Group sent "symbolic roses" to ATFD, which is holding an event in Tunis on 12 and 13 March on "independent Tunisian women after the revolution".

"Over the past years, we have used the occasion of International Women's Day to decry attacks on women in Tunisia, including slander and abuse faced by women journalists and activists in Tunisia," said IFEX-TMG chair Rohan Jayasekera. "Happily, this year, we are celebrating the brave Tunisians who have helped turn the page towards a democracy where women can speak freely without fear of reprisal."

However, added writer Elisabeth Eide of Norwegian PEN, "When a country goes through a momentous revolution such as Tunisia has just done, and benefited largely by women's participation, the new rulers should not ignore women's interests and variety of roles they could play in building a new country where free expression and human rights are enjoyed by all." Read the full statement here.

ARTICLE 19 dedicated 2011 International Women's Day to Achour and other women from across the world who have spoken out against oppression and inequality.

"The vast majority of these women are not renowned political activists, human rights defenders or cyber activists, but ordinary women, young and not so young, educated and non-educated, literate and illiterate, who have come together to march: chanting, raging and relentlessly demanding and speaking out against oppression, censorship and inequality," said ARTICLE 19.

Besides Achour, ARTICLE 19 also profiled the 12 Bangladeshi women who received the ARTICLE 19 Grassroots Women Journalists' Fellowships; Indian editors Harinder Baweja and Madhu Kishwar; Mexican reporter Rosa Isela Perez, who reported on violence against women in Ciudad Juárez; Ndey Tapha Sosseh, the first woman to lead the Union of Gambian Journalists; and Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent human rights lawyer jailed in Iran. See the full profiles here.

International Women's Day this year marks the sixth month of Sotoudeh's 11-year jail sentence. She's believed to be charged for critical interviews she gave to overseas media following the disputed June 2009 presidential election, and for her membership in the Association of Human Rights Defenders.

On this day, Sotoudeh is also a focus of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) , which is calling for her release and an end to the arrests and persecution of "all those who speak out on human rights abuses." Click here to find out how to send an appeal condemning Sotoudeh's harsh jail sentence and to read some of Soutoudeh's articles translated into English.

A number of women's freedom rallies took place on 8 March across Iran to support women in prison, demand full legal equality for women, and show solidarity with mothers whose children were killed in the post-election protests. Human Rights Watch lays out some of the challenges Iranian women face on this women's day here.

WiPC is also calling for justice for the murdered Mexican poet, Susana Chávez Castillo. Chávez led protests against the unsolved killings of women raped and killed in Ciudad Juárez since the early 1990s. Sadly, she became one of them: her body was found strangled with her left hand cut off in the city centre on 6 January. The authorities have denied that her murder was related in any way to her activism and poetry or to organised crime, and Chávez' murder remains unsolved. Click here to find out more about Chávez, including samples of her work and how you can help.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) is also profiling the work of four women journalists "who have courageously worked under difficult and dangerous conditions:" Jila Baniyaghoub from Iran, Li Jianhong from China, Irina Khalip from Belarus and Jineth Bedoya Lima from Colombia.

Khalip, a journalist for the Moscow-based paper "Novaya Gazeta", was jailed on 19 December, following post-election opposition protests in Minsk. Although she's out on bail, she is under house arrest and faces up to 15 years in jail on charges of organising mass disorder. While she was in jail, authorities tried to take her 3-year-old son away from his grandmother. Her husband, presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov, remains in detention.

Read all about the four journalists, several honoured by CJFE International Press Freedom Awards, in CJFE's statement.

The newsroom is still largely a man's world, according to a timely report by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released on 8 March. Although more women have become journalists in the past 20 years, few of them occupy executive and editorial positions, RSF said in News Media: A Men's Preserve that is Dangerous for Women.

The report includes interviews with women journalists from around the world, describing the different problems they encounter on the job, from everyday discrimination to the most tragic forms of violence.

Those feelings are echoed in a statement made by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Although this year marks 100 years since the first International Women's Day, "the struggle for women's rights remains a battle to be won, particularly for women in the media," says IFJ.

IFJ is also part of the UNESCO campaign to promote gender equality in the media, "Women Make the News". This year's theme is Media and Information Literacy and Gender, which looks at how citizens, as users of media and information systems, can influence how gender is covered in the media. UNESCO and IFJ are also inviting journalists and media organisations to exchange experiences and best practices on how they have been addressing this issue. Tell your story here. Comments will be accepted until 30 March and will be featured on the Women make the News website.

Finally, listen to the podcasts of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC) for 24 hours' worth of multilingual programming for women, by women all over the world. This year, a radio drama series called "The Market Report" was piloted in mainstream radio spaces in the Asia-Pacific. Set in a local market in a Fiji and broadcast in English, Fijian and Hindi, the show is produced by women hoping to promote women's participation in local governance. You can rebroadcast the drama, or any other programme, on your community radio station for free.

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