Geneva - Female journalists in Yemen, Tunisia, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt) face assault and harassment as a result of their journalistic work, in contrast to their male counterparts, said Euro-Med Monitor in a statement.

In a new report titled “Not your profession”, published on International Women’s Day, Euro-Med Monitor states that in addition to the violations and hardships typically faced by journalists, female journalists working in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region face additional harassment which hinders their work and prevents them from doing their jobs normally—and often pushes them to abandon the field entirely.

The report is based on personal interviews and testimonies from female journalists in Yemen, Tunisia, and the oPt, and confirms that such harassment is commonly practised against female journalists for one particular reason: they are women. According to the report, one out of every 10 journalists arrested in Yemen over the last two years was a woman. Despite a lower number of female journalists arrested as compared to male journalists, the report notes, the number of registered female journalists in Yemen is much lower than that of male journalists.

   Female journalists in Yemen, Tunisia, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt) face assault and harassment as a result of their journalistic work, in contrast to their male counterparts   

Female journalists account for approximately 170 of the 1,500 journalists registered and affiliated with the Yemeni Journalists’ Syndicate, making up only 11% of the total number of Syndicate-affiliated journalists. Furthermore, female journalists face several constraints, including limited opportunities and routine self-censorship as a result of cultural and social pressures.

The restrictions and obstacles limiting women’s freedom include denying women the right to movement and work, which is one of the most visible violations against female journalists in Yemen. The Houthi group—which rules nearly 70% of Yemen’s regions—issued an official decision in August 2022 banning women’s movement without a male escort (mahram), adopted by all parties to the conflict. As a result, the vast majority of press institutions in Yemen refrain from hiring or working with female journalists and instead rely solely on male journalists, due to women’s inability to travel or work without escorts or obtain official work permits. This ban on movement has had an impact not only on women and their work, but also on journalism in Yemen as a whole.

“Although parties to the conflict disagree on all matters, they [are all in agreement] against women and their freedom,” Yemeni journalist Wedad al-Badawi said in an interview with the Euro-Med Monitor team. “The restrictions placed on women’s movement and female journalists’ work influences the accuracy of the testimonies gathered, as some women in conservative communities prefer to give testimony and be interviewed comfortably by female journalists rather than men.”

Moreover, Yemeni female journalists face stigma and defamation on social media platforms, which are often used as weapons by members of almost all parties to the conflict, who will combat journalists online when their actions are criticised. Numerous campaigns of defamation against female journalists in recent years have included insults and manipulated photos, forcing those targeted to face additional uphill battles. According to female journalists interviewed by Euro-Med Monitor, society views them negatively, ostracising them socially and telling them that “journalism is not your profession”; interviewees also spoke of the family pressures that come with the profession. Many targeted journalists have had to deactivate their social media accounts and remain silent to avoid harassment or assault, and some have even abandoned journalism to pursue other work or interests, while others have fled the country to protect themselves and their families.

Authorities in Tunisia primarily use stigmatisation and defamation as tools to attack female journalists in the country, taking advantage of women’s vulnerable position in society. Female journalists’ work has been hampered by numerous difficulties since the announcement of the Tunisian president’s exceptional measures, including the deliberate smearing of their personal and professional reputations, as well as stigmatisation through horrific insults that incite social exclusion.

Smear campaigns in Tunisia have targeted female journalists who deal with local political events in a way that differs from the official point of view, with authorities using abusive language on social media against female journalists who were arbitrarily arrested. Although Tunisia is one of the Arab and Muslim countries that maintains a set of regulations prohibiting the stigmatisation of women in a way that affects their professional or social standing, these situations become nightmares for arrested female journalists, who suffer ramifications personally that in turn affect the reputation of their families.

Journalists in the oPt face various forms of violence and intimidation perpetrated by the Israeli army and authorities, which a large portion of Palestinian society believes is especially inappropriate when directed at women. Palestinian journalists face violations including beatings, regular arbitrary arrests, interrogations, and extortion (for instance, in exchange for travel and family reunification), which lead a large segment of society—particularly in vulnerable areas—to believe that journalism is a male-only profession.

Many Palestinian families believe that summoning a female journalist for questioning, arresting, and harassing her because of her journalistic work is shameful, and stigmatises not only the female journalist but also her entire family. In other cases, Israeli authorities arrest female journalists or impose travel bans or other movement restrictions on them without informing them of the reason, and their case files are classified as “confidential” by Israeli intelligence. It is common for journalists to face allegations in legal proceedings, but allegations directed at women can result in female journalists’ families pressuring them to abandon their careers or refrain from covering sensitive topics to avoid prosecution; female journalists frequently self-censor their work to avoid social criticism or family pressure.

Although women make up a large proportion of the total number of journalists working in the oPt, this is not indicative of equal opportunities in the journalism sector. The situation on the ground leads some media outlets to believe that working with male journalists in conflict areas is easier and allows for more flexibility, because men’s schedules are less rigid—for example, they can work more hours and later into the night—and they typically have a greater ability than women to run in situations involving clashes and military attacks. Therefore, news and press agencies prefer to work with male journalists during critical times, while assigning less important tasks to female journalists.

M. N., a journalist from the Gaza Strip who spoke to Euro-Med Monitor on the condition of anonymity, said that unlike her male colleagues and despite her repeated requests to management, she was never assigned to cover breaking news on the ground. “I repeatedly expressed to my supervisor my desire to cover more important events by going to targeted locations and conducting interviews, as my male colleagues do,” she said. “However, he always told me that I would not be able to bear the difficulties of covering violent, dangerous events, or that I would be unable to act or flee if my location was targeted, and that he found it difficult to assign me tasks late at night.”

The United Nations and its relevant bodies must establish independent accountability mechanisms to investigate and hold accountable perpetrators of systematic violations against female journalists in Yemen, Tunisia, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, ensuring justice for them and protecting their right to freedom of expression and journalistic work. Euro-Med Monitor urges the UN to collaborate with social media companies to create effective reporting mechanisms to assist female journalists in reporting cases of threats, intimidation, and extortion as a result of their work.

Yemeni authorities must end the arbitrary and unjustified restrictions on women’s rights by protecting their right to work in journalism, freedom of movement, and freedom of expression; cooperate with female journalists to facilitate their work; and stop withholding information from and obstructing the journalistic efforts of women.

Tunisian authorities must respect free expression and the press; end the campaign of incitement against female journalists and bloggers; follow the Tunisian constitution, national laws governing journalistic work, and international conventions; enact clear laws and penalties for cyberbullying and repeated attacks on female journalists; and increase oversight to prevent smear campaigns and punish perpetrators.

Israeli authorities must assume their responsibilities as an occupying power and cease targeting, prosecuting, arresting, threatening, and interrogating female journalists at border crossings and military checkpoints for their journalistic activities. The Palestinian Authority and the ruling authorities in Gaza must lift all restrictions on free speech and expression, ensure that journalists can do their jobs freely, and limit all practices that impede or impose self-censorship on journalists.

Full report in Arabic
Full report in English will be available soon.