You can’t be a human being anymore – They tell you: ‘ Look she’s a woman, that’s why she is emotional!’ – Rula Asad, Co-Founder Syrian Female Journalists Network.
There are a couple of things you don’t necessarily see if you read an article. Sometimes, there is a story behind the moving images on the TV screen the audience might never notice. Maybe they never get to understand that during the production of the report they watch a woman was sexually harassed. It doesn’t say in the text, how someone has told the journalist that she is ‘cute’, how they did not take her seriously. Maybe her editor has never even given her the story she wanted to report on because it was too hard and told her she should rather cover something ‘female’.
Rula Asad knows about these stories behind the news. As a Syrian journalist currently living in the Netherlands she has experienced different kinds of discrimination during her career. Back in Syria her editors asked her to write about social topics and forget about sports.
‘The most surprising thing was that I thought I will go to heaven when I go to the Netherlands in terms of equality. But instead I realized that even in the Western world there are stereotypes against women reporters.’
Rula Asad was among the three panel speakers for the first day of the Inclusive Media training for female journalist organized by MENAC and the Jordanian NGO Daem for Media starting today in Amman. Together with Rana Sabbagh, the founder of the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, Lina Ejeilat the editor-in-chief of the Jordanian platform 7iber and the 20 workshop participants from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe Rula discussed what it means to be a female reporter in the 21st century.
During the discussion the panelists touched upon important issues regarding gender roles and cultural stereotypes. Rana Sabbagh, who has over 35 years of experience as a journalist, believes that the key to success is to see oneself as a professional and not as a woman. She also talked about the rising conservatism regarding women’s rights and religious freedom in Jordan that in her opinion makes life for female reporters harder:
We are no longer living in an environment where women are respected
All panelists agreed that being respected as a woman in the media business is a global issue. However, Lina Eijalat pointed out that apart from being a woman racism plays a big role:
If you are an Arab woman in journalism you always face different layers of oppression
Throughout the panel discussion, informal team-building and training sessions it became obvious that challenges for female journalists exist in many different ways. In the afternoon the trainers and the participants reflected upon personal experiences as female journalist.
Family expectations and combining the life of a mother and a journalist were seen as a major obstacle for the young journalists’ careers and participants mentioned that they feel there is always ‘a prize you pay’ if you want to be a successful female reporter.
Riham Alkousaa, a Palestinian-Syrian participant who now lives in Germany, said that it is particularly hard to report on a country you are not allowed to visit:
I always want to describe the mood, the situation but I can’t because I am not allowed to go anymore
For her as well as for other participants online harassment not related to her work but to her being a woman from Syria has been a problem in the past. During the panel discussion Jordanian journalist Lina Ejeilat put this in a nutshell:
A woman’s opinion is the miniskirt of the internet
Participants also reported on being afraid of sexual harassment due to lack of security trainings or support for freelancers. Egyptian journalists mentioned the fear of getting into prison and being raped there.
The participants agreed that finding support networks and solidarity among female journalists is tremendously important in order to overcome the challenges they face in their daily professional life.
Rula Asad gave the young journalists the advice to look at Feminist networks in their countries:
They really do their homework, you can learn a lot from them
In the next days the participants will have a specially designed training with Rula Asad and Azerbaijani journalist Arzu Geybulla which should encourage them to build strong networks and overcome gender-based challenges.
The Inclusive Media training is supported by the German Foreign Ministry, the German Institute for Foreign Affairs (ifa), the International Women Media Foundation (IWMF), the European Youth Press and the Syrian Female Journalist Network (SFJN).