Empowering female journalists to Navigate Digital Spaces Safely

By Cecilia Maundu

In today’s digital age, the Internet, including social media, serves as an indispensable tool for
journalists to connect with their peers, engage with the public, conduct research, and
express their viewpoints. However, it’s essential to acknowledge that the Internet has also
given rise to gender-based online violence, which disproportionately affects women

A 2020 UN Women report highlighted that women working in the media are at a heightened
risk of online violence due to their public personas. On this International Day of the Girl, a
global observance dedicated to recognizing and empowering girls around the world, we
explore the importance of empowering female journalists to navigate digital spaces safely.

The Digital Landscape and Its Challenges

The digital world has become the primary battleground for journalism. To comprehend the
obstacles confronting women in this field, we must consider the following:

A survey conducted by the International Center for Journalists, encompassing 714 female
journalists, revealed that a staggering 73 percent have encountered some form of online
violence. Notably, they are four times more likely to experience such attacks compared to
their male counterparts, as indicated by a digital security survey report. 

These statistics not only underscore the high exposure of women journalists to online
attacks but also emphasize that the repercussions extend from the digital domain into their
real lives. This violence affects their sense of security, their ability to work, their overall well-
being, their career prospects, and their participation in public discourse—undoubtedly a
critical democratic concern.

Online violence against women can manifest in various forms, including but not limited to
unwanted sexual remarks, doxing, non-consensual sharing of intimate content, threats,
cyberstalking, harassment, and the circulation of gender-based discriminatory memes and
posts. These challenges can deter female journalists from freely expressing their thoughts
and reporting essential stories.

Navigating Online Spaces Safely

October is Cyber Security Awareness Month. It is paramount that online safety be
female journalist is emphasised, and it requires a multifaceted approach. Here’s how we can
empower female journalists to navigate digital spaces safely:

1. Empowerment Through Digital Rights:

Digital rights encompass the right to online privacy, freedom of expression, and access to information. These rights recognize individuals’ entitlement to access, utilize, create, and disseminate digital content, along with the right to access the necessary electronic devices and telecommunication networks.
Imparting knowledge about these rights to girls, starting at an early age, is critical for their
safety and success.

2. Utilizing Online Harassment Reporting Tools:

Major platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google provide tools for reporting harassment and abuse. These platforms can empower female journalists to take action against online abusers.

3. Engaging in Digital Security Workshops:

Organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) offer digital security training for journalists. These workshops offer valuable insights into online safety and data protection. Moreover, global organizations like PEN America are actively working to educate and equip those disproportionately impacted by online abuse, including women journalists. Their “Online Harassment Field Manual
provides concrete strategies for self-defense.

4. Fostering a Culture of Open Discourse:

Female journalists should actively discuss their experiences and challenges. They can mentor and educate other journalists on how to protect themselves. This dialogue can take place through online communities, virtual meetups, or platforms like the Digital Dada Podcast, a Kenyan podcast dedicated to discussing online violence and digital security.

Empowering female journalists to navigate digital spaces safely is a collective responsibility.
On this International Day of the Girl, let us underscore the importance of digital rights and
digital safety for women in journalism. By raising awareness, providing resources, and
supporting initiatives by organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and
the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), we can ensure that female journalists not only
thrive in the digital age but also stay shielded from online harassment.

Cecilia Maundu is a broadcast journalist & digital security expert

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