A survey of female media professionals in Iraq reports that around half have been harassed or threatened, yet three-quarters of those who have been, have nowhere to turn for help.
A survey conducted by the Organization to Empower Women in the Media shows that 91 percent of female journalists in Iraq have difficulties in accessing information. This hinders their work and constitutes a major challenge to the profession.
The questionnaire surveyed in over 100 Iraqi journalists, both Arab and Kurdish, who were working in written, visual, audio and social media. The results showed which sources were most likely to avoid giving journalists information.
Government agencies – 51%
Security agencies – 28%
Political parties – 9%
Semi-official military groups – 8%
The questionnaire’s respondents are divided into these groups.
79% were female journalists working for independent media
13% were female journalists working in government media or ministry press departments
7% were female journalists working in partisan media
Dangers of the job
Almost half – 46% – of female journalists who responded had been threatened or blackmailed.
Of the different kinds of threats, death threats ranked first and made up 36% of all threats. Around a quarter – 26% – of all threats saw the families of female journalists threatened. Other threats included kidnapping and sexual assault.
Using the law
79% of the female journalists who were threatened said they didn’t go to law enforcement agencies because they either did not trust the agencies or feared escalating the situation.
15% of the female journalists who were threatened said a lack of professional or familial support for them meant they didn’t go to law enforcement.
13% of the female journalists who were threatened said their families refused to go to law enforcement agencies and preferred to remain silent.
Other variables were also mentioned, such as the fear of losing work if the threat was disclosed.
53% of female journalists who took part in the survey had been harassed.
Most were subjected to verbal harassment
21% faced impolite looks or suspicious gestures
21% were subjected to digital harassment
Asked who had harassed them, the journalists responded like this:
21% were harassed by citizens while performing their work on the street
19% were harassed by managers at work
15% were harassed by colleagues
16% were harassed by government officials
The majority of the female journalists – 60% – did not report the harassment. Their reasons for not doing so are as follows:
27% feared for their reputation
14% were afraid that no one would support them
Other reasons included the fear of losing work, not being believed or that the harassers might threaten them further.
According to the survey, the most difficult obstacles female journalists regularly faced in their work were:
Difficulty accessing information
Not having legitimate work contracts, which made them vulnerable to sudden dismissal
Threats and blackmail when working on sensitive topics
Harassment within institutions
Negative gender discrimination, around unequal salaries and the type of work female journalists were assigned to do, when compared to male colleagues.
Lack of professional skills
Lack of family support for females working in the media
Around two-thirds, or 66%, of the female journalists surveyed agreed that there was sexism in the way they were treated, their assignments and what they were paid. Male journalists were usually paid more, had more privileges – things like editing and photography – and were assigned tasks by senior editors that were seen as “not suitable” for female journalists.
60% of the women said they did not have legitimate work contracts from the organizations in which they worked.
Of those who did have contracts, 75% didn’t have anything written into them about maternity leave or their rights in case of dismissal.
The female journalists who responded also listed professional needs. These included:
Modern digital devices and equipment that kept pace with technology
Workshops to develop further skills, such as investigative journalism, story styles (such as feature stories or portraits) and different writing styles.
Workshops on cyber security and how to secure personal computers and phones.
Better legal advice and more awareness of laws that protect journalists.
Codes of conduct at work, as well as clear guidelines and potentially penalties regarding harassment at work.