GFMD AND PARTNERS CO-HOST PANEL DISCUSSION AT NGO CSW63

On March 21st a side-event was organized during the Commission on the Status of Women in New York by GFMD, Fondation Hirondelle, Free Press Unlimited, International Media Support (IMS), Internews, IREX, and the Media Diversity Institute (MDI). A panel, moderated by Emma Heywood (University of Sheffield) and Laura Zelenko (Bloomberg), discussed the question ‘Does the online space allow women in media to challenge stereotyping and misrepresentation?’.

After Snjezana Milivojevic, professor at the University of Belgrade set the stage by highlighting the situation of women in media worldwide and the latest trends, challenges and opportunities, Ilaria Tosello from IREX pointed to the safety concerns for female journalists online and how they translate to the offline world as well. Snjezana asserted that in the current digital world, “there is no border between the online and offline space,” and we are now living in a, “converged media environment.” Ilaria highlighted the challenges associated with this including the, “extension of violence against women into the online space,” and the risk of, “self-censorship,”. Yet, she reminded us that women are inherently resilient and these risks will not keep them offline, being aware that the whole media industry has responsibilities to contribute to solutions and apply measures and strategies to address online gender based violence.

The potential of online media to highlight women’s stories was shown by Sonia Terrab, a Morroccan filmmaker who used short videos about women to reclaim the online and offline space they are often not welcome to. Sonia highlighted, “the online space gives women a platform to tell their story,” and emphasized that when it comes to challenging gender stereotypes and empowering women, “we have to start somewhere.”

Egyptian publisher Namees Arnous emphasized how media can give a platform for women and show that they are strong. She explained, “women need quality information in order to meet the challenges in their lives,” because, “women are fighters, not victims.” Namees also stressed the importance of involving men and community leaders in order for their own perceptions about women and girls to be challenged. She reminded the audience that, “media is an important tool to show that women are powerful.”

In the following discussion, it was emphasized that even though online media are increasingly important, we shouldn’t forget about women, often in rural areas, that don’t have access to the online space. For those radio remain vital and an empowering tool as well. No matter which type of media, the panelists agreed that once one woman speaks up and tells her story, many others follow, because the stories are recognizable.

Highlighting the potential as well as the challenges of online media, the panel contributed to a debate about the spaces for women to speak up and share their stories and the role that media play in this. The panelists answered numerous questions from the audience, focusing mainly on the complementarity of off-line and on-line spaces for the female audiences, and the need to provide more support to women within the media.