CSP Working Group on Women and Gender Realities Held a Side Event to the Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting


9 March 2021

The CSP Working Group on Women and Gender Realities in the OSCE Region held an online side event to the first Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM) of 2021 on Media Freedom and Gender Equality. The event was dedicated to the role of women human rights reporters and defenders and how to overcome harassment and violence they are subject to. The side event presented several cases and testimonies from the OSCE region to deepen understanding of the forces at play and discussed how people, organizations and institutions can sustain and enhance gender equality in reporting and discussions online and offline.

There is growing evidence of the critical role that women play in peacebuilding and conflict transformation. While defending human rights is getting increasingly dangerous, women mediate disputes, defuse tensions and save lives in the hardest to reach places. Yet their front line work is consistently unseen and their role is still presented as an exception. Meaningful participation and reporting about human rights abuse are crucial steps in claiming and campaigning for a more equal, just and peaceful society. “Gender commitment needs more visibility. We need friendly media to highlight not just catastrophes, but also good practice of women focusing on a human dimension. We all have fantastic life stories of courageous women. Success stories where a conflict could be prevented by a cross-dimensional peace- and trust-building initiative, bridging borders and different clashes,” said Heidi Meinzolt from WILPF International Board, Coordinator of the CSP Working group.

Uzay Bulut, journalist and human rights activist from Turkey, presented the negative effects of Turkey’s military offensives on women and minority groups in the region, including recently in Nagorno-Karabakh. She talked about the challenges that journalists and human rights advocates face in Turkey while commenting or reporting on these issues due to the politicized and unfair trials and legislation. “Journalists often face arrest or criminal investigation if they criticize the Turkish government's actions, particularly its atrocities in the past and the present. Terrorism charges continue to be widely misused by Turkey's judicial system to restrict freedom of speech for journalists and other citizens”. In this regard, Ms Bulut underlined the need for greater support and solidarity from the international media in covering atrocities to break the tradition of impunity in Turkey.

Female reporters about human rights are subject to the same type of risks as any human rights defenders, but as women, they are also targeted or exposed to gender-specific threats and gender-specific violence. Gulnara Shahinian from Democracy Today Armenia highlighted the importance of cooperation between women human rights defenders, women journalists and media companies they work for, as well as the response from society in the global context. “It is important to recognize the specific challenges this group of defenders face to strengthen protection mechanisms and both local and international level response to their specific concerns. Prompt investigation of intimidation, threats, violence and abuses against women human rights defenders, whether committed by state or non-state actors, should be undertaken immediately,” she added. 

Pandemics, just like most other public healthcare issues, are predominantly gendered and COVID-19 is not an exception. “The pandemic has not only created more obstacles for women’s involvement but has also deepened and magnified those issues that they traditionally faced,” noted Eliko Bendeliani from the Institute for the Study of Nationalism and Conflicts, Georgia. According to her, in this new reality, conflict-affected women living in conflict zones and vulnerable regions are the highest matter of concern. As all processes, services and resources moved online, these women, most of whom lack access to basic digital technology or the internet, cannot raise their voice, or have their voice heard. Ms Bendeliani underlined the important role that the media can and should play in creating a bridge between these women and the government. “But again, because of the pandemic, the attention of the media is mostly in another direction,” she added.

Women journalists are often victims of aggression and violence while performing their professional duties. Maryna Korzh, a feminist activist from Belarus, briefed the participants on the disturbing numbers of attacks on journalists from the side of the Belarusian authorities. 382 journalists were injured in Belarus in 2020. 96% of these attacks came from the authorities. Journalists are specifically targeted for performing their professional duties, but charged and detained for “provoking and organizing unrest”. They cannot perform their professional duties as their personal and professional belongings are being confiscated. “For showing the truth, journalists, including women journalists end up in jail. Many of them fled the country afraid that they would also be taken to prison,” Ms Korzh added. In this regard, the importance of international solidarity, as well as political action and pressure from international institutions was highlighted.

Tolekan Ismailova of the “Human Rights Movement: Bir Duino - Kyrgyzstan”, Vice President of the FIDH, introduced alarming trends of how culture and religion are used to justify violence against women and girls in Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. Rejection of the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic by the government of Turkmenistan led to the death of many women, including doctors. People have died in prisons and other closed institutions due to the lack of medical aid and support. Tolekan Ismailova also mentioned trends such as the campaign against human rights NGOs in Kazakhstan, as well as denying women the right to drive cars in Turkmenistan. She called on the human rights defenders and women’s rights NGOs to unite their efforts to promote more support for gender equality in the OSCE region. 

Annika Schabbauer of the Swedish NGO Operation 1325 talked about why women’s security work needs to be visible in the media and why women in the media are important for a peaceful and democratic society. According to her, the issue of media freedom is closely linked to structures of power and the ability to participate in the public debate. In order to reach full representation, the media landscape needs to go through a holistic paradigm shift and the media industry needs to actively redress gender discrimination and stereotyping. “Media is linked to power and without true representation of women, democracy in any country lacks true legitimacy. Without this legitimacy, peaceful and democratic societies will not last,” she said. As a concluding recommendation to the OSCE participating States, Ms Schabbauer added that “news needs to be produced from conception to fulfilment by women and women working within security need to be made visible and not be filtered through a patriarchal media lens”.

The video recording of the full event can be accessed HERE.