Women Journalists more vulnerable for attacks in Pakistan: Chairperson NCHR

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By Shabbir Hussain

ISLAMABAD, July 29 (Diplomatic Star): While reporting on critical issues, women Journalist are becoming more vulnerable for attacks which puts their life saftey at risk, besides facing a pressure of censorship at institutional level.

These views were expressed by the Chairperson National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), Rabiya Javeri Agha during a consultative meeting titled Women Journalists’ Challenges in Media jointly organized by the Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) and the Centre for Excellence in Journalism (CEJ).

Chairperson National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), Rabiya Javeri Agha addressing the participants of a consultative meeting held here

Consultative meeting participated by women journalists from across Pakistan. Rabiya Javeri Agha the initiative aimed to give female journalists space to air their concerns and to collectively address the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis

Rabiya Javeri Agha said that around the globe, women journalists and female media workers face offline and online attacks putting their safety at risk – these attacks can range from violence, stigmatization, sexist hate speech, trolling, physical assault etc.

It is a pity, Rabiya Javeri Agha said that in Pakistan female journalists are targeted online significantly more than their male colleagues, and that the threats they face are highly sexualized, focused on their physical features, ethnicity, or cultural background, rather than on the content of their work.

As a result, these threats tend to silence women journalists’ voices and to deplete freedom of speech by interrupting valuable investigative journalist work. They also distort the media landscape by threatening diversity and perpetuating inequalities both in newsrooms and in societies, she added.

Chairperson NCHR Rabiya Javeri Agha said “One of the biggest challenges in online spaces in Pakistan, evidenced by the breadth of research on the subject, is online violence and harassment.” She spoke about how women journalists reporting on critical issues face increased risks of attack and censorship.

Addressing the participants of the meeting, Nighat Dad from DRF lamented that online spaces are increasingly becoming hostile for women journalists and women in general.

She identified four ways online freedom of expression has been negatively impacted, namely 1) legal restrictions, 2) extra-judicial excesses, 3) online violence and harassment, 4) monitoring and 5) gendered disinformation against women journalists.

Representative of CEJ, Amber Rahim Shamsi has also shared her thoughts with the participants of the meeting and said that women journalists face harassment, physical insecurity, the gender-wage gap, and mental distress as a result of online abuse.

While the Constitution of Pakistan provides safeguards for online speech in the form of Article 19 for free expression and Article 19(A) for the right to information, these freedoms have increasingly come under attack. Pakistan has consistently ranked low on indices rating freedom of expression, and online spaces are no different, she explained.

According to the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index 2021 Pakistan ranks 145 out of 180 with constant regulations and censorship of the media. Laws such as sedition and defamation, particularly criminal defamation, have been used to pursue cases against journalists, she added.

The Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act 2016 (PECA), particularly section 20, is frequently used to initiate proceedings against activists for critiquing state institutions. Women in particular face the brunt of harassment and abuse.

The event concluded with Chairperson Rabiya Javeri Agha’s announcement about the launch of a Complaint Cell at the NCHR in collaboration with DRF and CEJ specifically for women journalists.

This complaint cell will be dedicated to resolving human rights issues that arise from the targeting of women journalists, to ensure the freedom of the press. “Freedom of the press and freedom of the media are cornerstones for any functioning, successful democracy,” she said.