Al Jazeera Journalism Review

Global women outside
Family and relatives attend the funeral of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh on May 13, 2022 in Jerusalem. According to eye witnesses, Palestinian/American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was shot by a live bullet on the morning of Wednesday, May 11. She was covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. [Amir Levy/Getty Images]

The common struggles of female journalists around the world

Female journalists from different regions speak out


It has been five months since Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead by Israeli forces while covering army raids in the West Bank's Jenin. 

Her death prompted global outrage as the veteran television correspondent for Al Jazeera was wearing a press vest when she was killed and was not in close proximity to any violent conflict. The incident triggered a new focus on the increasing number of attacks against women journalists.

Vania Pigeonutt, who specialises in covering organised crime in Mexico, has worked as a journalist for 12 years. Most of her work focuses on Guerrero, one of the most dangerous states in Mexico. 

“This year will be the deadliest in terms of press freedom in Mexico because 13 colleagues have been murdered so far. The situation is dire,” she says. “Due to the impunity enjoyed by politicians and bureaucrats, these murders are not investigated. This emboldens the next attacker to kill a journalist because they know they can get away with it," she adds.

'This year will be the deadliest in terms of press freedom in Mexico because 13 colleagues have been murdered so far. The situation is dire.' Journalist Vania Pigeonutt covers organised crime in Mexico.

Pakistani journalist Sana Batool says that she finds inspiration in women journalists across the world who have continued reporting despite threats. But her faith does not shield her from attacks over her reportage.

"Be it a man or a woman, every journalist faces difficulties crossing certain lines and writing on certain topics. But as a woman, one is threatened more easily," she says. “While reporting on the issues of minorities and marginalised groups, I have been abused multiple times by the Pakistani majority, especially men. Some of my stories involving sectarian violence put my life and safety under threat multiple times."

I have to be more creative than others with my coverage. I have to constantly prove myself

Vania Pigeonutt, Mexico


In 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression said that: "Attacks on women journalists are intended to intimidate, silence and drive them out of the public sphere and are a blatant violation of freedom of expression and the right of public participation." 

A UNESCO report published in the same year revealed that online trolling of women journalists was now morphing into real-life attacks. The report, entitled The Chilling: Global Trends in Online Violence Against Women Journalists, also found that the increasing attacks and threats were directly putting the health of these journalists in jeopardy.

global women 4
A woman puts up photos of slain journalists - both women and men - after the murder of journalist Fredid Roman during a vigil to protest the crime, outside Mexico's Attorney General's office in Mexico City, on August 24, 2022. Roman was the 15th media worker killed so far in 2022 in Mexico, where it is now considered the most dangerous country for reporters outside a war zone. [Eduardo Verdugo/AP]

While all journalists have to go above and beyond to uncover facts and weave a narrative, the challenges are even trickier for women in countries where society views men and women differently. The existing patriarchy serves as another major challenge, particularly when it comes to accessibility. 

"While reporting, I cannot enter the areas and activities reserved exclusively for men including the poppy fields where opium is extracted," Pigeonutt explains.

I have been abused multiple times by the Pakistani majority, especially men. Some of my stories involving sectarian violence put my life and safety under threat

Sana Batool, Pakistan


“The culture does not accept women in these spaces. Along with this, I have to be more creative than others with my coverage. I have to constantly prove myself and show what I am capable of when it comes to understanding the situation on the ground. My male colleagues do not have that additional struggle to prove themselves," she adds.

Recently, UNESCO also expressed concerns over world press freedom and highlighted that life-threatening risks exist for journalists everywhere. However, the number of killings varies strongly between regions. Between the start of 2016 and the end of 2020, 400 journalists across the world were killed while doing their jobs. Among these, around 123 were killed in Asia and the Pacific region along with Latin America and the Caribbean region, making them the worst-performing regions.

global women 3
Flowers and a candle lie in front of a portrait of slain female investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia during a vigil outside the law courts in Valletta, Malta, on October 16, 2018. Galizia had been killed in a car bombing one year earlier. Her case highlighted the dangers that many female journalists face in many parts of the world [Jonathan Borg/AP]

When Filipino journalist Ana P Santos transitioned from a full-time banker to an independent journalist covering migrant issues, gender, and sexuality, she did not expect it to be an easy road ahead. But what she experienced was harder than anything she had imagined.

"I have had doctors call me stupid and threaten to overdose me with anesthesia if I ever landed up in their hospital. This is a direct consequence of former PM Rodrigo Duterte saying journalists deserved to die while referring to the case of a reporter who was murdered in 2003. This meant that we were no longer reporters of political excesses and abuse but instead enemies of the public, especially if we wrote critical pieces against the government,” she says. 

A UNESCO report published in 2021 revealed that online trolling of women journalists is now morphing into real-life attacks


The increasing disinformation of the post-truth era has led to increased hostility and a growing trust deficit among the people, Santos says. “Philippines was ground zero as it was one of the first countries to witness Facebook being used as a political tool to influence elections. This was because one could access Facebook without data. People in the country use Facebook to consume news. Unverified posts from friends and family got branded as 'the truth' or 'fact' leading to a crisis of trust. Such was the situation that the consumer of the news would rather believe influencers over journalists," she explains.

'I have had doctors call me stupid and threaten to overdose me with anesthesia if I ever landed up in their hospital.' Ana P Santos covers migration and gender issues in the Philippines [Courtesy of Ana P Santos]

While calling for regulation of big tech companies, Santos says journalists across the world need to come together to call for action as most countries today are witnessing the same problem. “Our survival as an industry depends on regulating the internet and making social media sites such as Google and Facebook accountable," Santos says. 

Calling for extensive media training scholarships, mental health support, and increased awareness and sensitisation programmes for the masses, Batool also says that the industry needs to evolve and become more accessible for women. 

“We need to invest in training and nurture of women journalists which will inspire more women to join the profession. Issues of the gender wage gap in the media also need to be raised more vociferously to ensure that there are equal opportunities for all," she says.

global women 2
A Demonstrator holds a placard during the Free Palestine, End Apartheid protest outside BBC Broadcasting House on May 14, 2022 in London, England. Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed by Israeli forces while reporting on raids in the West Bank [Hollie Adams/Getty Images]

The 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) which evaluates the press freedom situation in 180 countries and territories annually, shows that journalism is totally blocked or seriously impeded in 73 countries and constrained in 59 others, which together represent 73 percent of the countries evaluated. These countries are classified as having “very bad”, “bad” or “problematic” environments for press freedom.

Women face almost the same threats because of their gender from authoritarian governments and extremists

Jane Lee, China

When Chinese journalist Jane Lee started to work as a reporter she never imagined that her work could lead her to jail. For three years she documented protests which included links, texts, pictures and videos and created an archive. It took her three years to work on and complete the project with her partner but when the database was widely used by other journalists and researchers to study China and its social issues, problems for Lee started to crop up more frequently.

“There is no independent journalism in China and many journalists have been jailed or have gone to exile in the past decade,” Lee, who has been arrested and detained for 11 months - later receiving a three-year suspended sentence - says. “With the ever tightening internet control and censorship, journalists who try to report from the front face grave dangers. They often disappear if they dare follow up a hot social scandal.”

Jane Lee, a Chinese journalist, never imagined her work would land her in jail. [Courtesy of Jane Lee]

Lee says she believes it hardly makes a difference in China who you are and if you speak or be critical you will land in jail. “This year a female citizen who tried to rescue a chained woman from captivity was arrested and charged by the Chinese government.”

Lee, who has received the TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize from Reporters Without Borders, says it is high time for journalists to come forward and create solidarity groups especially for the countries where there’s very limited press freedom. 

“Journalists across the globe are facing almost similar threats and women face almost the same threats because of their gender from authoritarian governments and extremists. We need to foster a strong community to tackle or fight these brute powers.” 


More Articles

Investigative journalism: How to develop and manage your sources

Your sources are the backbone of any investigation. In Part 3 of our series on investigative journalism, we look at how to find, foster and manage them

Malak Khalil Published on: 26 Jan, 2023
Investigative journalism: Hypothesis-based investigations

What is a hypothesis-based investigation, how do you come up with one and how do you investigate and prove it? Part 2 of our series on investigative journalism

Malak Khalil Published on: 19 Jan, 2023
Investigative journalism: What should you investigate?

In the first of our series on investigative journalism, we look at how journalists decide what to investigate

Malak Khalil Published on: 12 Jan, 2023
Navigating the Great Firewall of China

International media is blacked out in China - and very few are willing to try to bypass the country’s Firewall  

Al Jazeera Journalism Review Correspondent Published on: 5 Jan, 2023
Why are journalists in India turning to YouTube?

Indian journalists say the platform is a more democratic and uncensored place to work, but is the growing trend of YouTubers calling themselves journalists a cause for concern?

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 2 Jan, 2023
How Hungary’s media created the ‘Muslim bogeyman’

THE LONG READ: Hungary was one of the first Soviet-controlled countries to welcome refugees in the late 1980s. These days its government is one of the most opposed to migration in Europe. We examine how the media paved the way for this turnaround

Kinga Rajzak Published on: 28 Dec, 2022
Conflict, crisis and Colombia’s shifting media landscape

THE LONG READ: As political and commercial elites continue their stranglehold on mainstream media in Colombia, some independent minnows are starting to emerge

Mauricio Morales Published on: 5 Dec, 2022
How to cover major sports events

With the World Cup Qatar 2022 in full swing, the fourth part of our series on sports journalism focuses on how to cover major sporting events

Younes El Kharashi Published on: 1 Dec, 2022
How do sports journalists find and report the news?

In the third of our special series on sports journalism, we focus on the best ways to find and report sports news - from nurturing your sources to writing news stories

Younes El Kharashi Published on: 29 Nov, 2022
How to get started in sports journalism

In the second part of our special series on sports journalism, we explore the ways in which sports journalists can make a start in their careers

Younes El Kharashi Published on: 24 Nov, 2022
Sports journalism is no ‘easy life’

In the first of our special series of articles focusing on sports journalism, we examine the wide range of skills and ethical knowledge it takes to be a great sports reporter

Younes El Kharashi Published on: 22 Nov, 2022
Connecting continents - the trials and tribulations of diaspora journalists

THE LONG READ: The tireless work undertaken by diaspora journalists to change narratives about their homelands and to build bridges between communities still goes largely unacknowledged

Anam Hussain
Anam Hussain Published on: 8 Nov, 2022
Al Jazeera Investigations - the making of the Labour Files

An Al Jazeera investigation into the running of the UK’s Labour Party has revealed evidence of an ‘Orwellian’ smear campaign against its former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, a ‘hierarchy’ of racism within the party and even the hacking of journalists. Here’s how it came about 

Phil Rees Published on: 19 Oct, 2022
'If women are dying as a result of it, then I should report about it' - telling the untold stories of Cameroon

Journalists like Comfort Mussa, based in Cameroon, say that seeking out the untold stories of real people and having the bravery to cover taboo subjects are essential to their work

Akem Nkwain Published on: 3 Oct, 2022
The devastating silencing of the ‘Voice of Palestine’

Al Jazeera English’s Senior Correspondent recalls the last time she saw Shireen Abu Akleh and what it has been like to cover the investigations into her killing by Israeli forces

Natasha Ghoneim
Natasha Ghoneim Published on: 21 Sep, 2022
The trials, tribulations and irreplaceability of political cartoonists

How political cartoons have evolved in recent decades and are now shaping public discourse in southern Africa

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 1 Sep, 2022
‘Silence is no longer the answer’ - the Kashmiri journalists living in exile

Kashmiri journalists living in self-imposed exile abroad talk about threats to their families and their determination to keep reporting on human rights abuses

Raqib Hameed Naik Published on: 29 Aug, 2022
Navigating Taliban rule as a YouTuber - one year on

For the YouTubers who stepped into the shoes of journalists who fled following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the message is clear - broadcast what we tell you or be closed down

Sayed Jalal
Sayed Jalal Shajjan Published on: 18 Aug, 2022
Casualties of Partition - telling the story of Zainab and Boota

REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK: On the 75th anniversary of the Partition of Pakistan and India, a writer recalls his efforts to uncover the mystery of a family divided and asks if we always have the right to push for the ‘truth’

Haroon Khalid
Haroon Khalid Published on: 15 Aug, 2022
‘We have to walk miles to cover the news’ - journalism in Sri Lanka

The ongoing economic crisis in Sri Lanka has been widely covered by international media. But what is life like for journalists in the country right now?

Abeer Khan Published on: 7 Aug, 2022
‘No less than a fight for survival’ - life for mobile journalists in India

THE LONG READ: Mobile phones have made a career in the media more accessible to independent journalists. But they have also made it easier to exploit them

Saurabh Sharma
Saurabh Sharma Published on: 2 Aug, 2022
When covering refugee stories makes you a figure of hate

A wave of anti-migrant sentiment is gripping South Africa and those journalists covering it, who are migrants themselves, have become a particular target

Derick M
Derick Matsengarwodzi Published on: 28 Jul, 2022
How do journalists work under information blockades?

THE LONG READ: Internet blockades are used by governments to stifle dissent, unrest and even the reporting of war. We take an in-depth look at this phenomenon and highlight ways journalists can carry on working regardless

Adil Akhoon
Adil Amin Akhoon, Saliq Parvaiz Published on: 7 Jul, 2022
Virtual reality in the newsroom - placing us in the middle of the story

Journalists can use virtual reality to get a much clearer view of what is happening on the ground during conflict or other major events. This is how it works

Hadeel Arja Published on: 23 Jun, 2022