Women’s issues in Arab media: finding a place, finding the words

by Joelle Bassoul
Tuesday, 5 November 2013 15:02 GMT

Journalists visiting Sarah's Bag, a social enterprise in Beirut giving jobs to underprivileged women (www.sarahsbag.com). Photo: Lebanese American University

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A group of journalists from across the Arab world took part in a journalism training course titled 'Reporting Women' in Beirut.

“Lebanese women won the right to vote and be elected in 1951 but are only 2% of Parliament today, and have inherited those seats from their deceased husbands”. Leyla Awada, a lawyer and women's rights activist, paused and looked around the training room. Her comment was met with surprised stares and indignant throat clearing.

She was addressing a group of twelve journalists from Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the United Arab Emirates, who had gathered at Lebanese American University, in Beirut, to learn more about the plight of women, their rights and opportunities, or lack thereof.

From taboo topics, like sexual orientation and abortion, to issues such as economic hardship and patriarchal societies, participants discussed the weaknesses in the regional media coverage - and its modest achievements - during a five-day training entitled ‘Reporting Women’, organized in cooperation with the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World.

During the workshop, the first of its kind to be held by Thomson Reuters Foundation in Arabic, they spoke about daily challenges – sexual harassment in Egypt, insecurity in Syria – learned the importance of balanced reporting and sources, and developed their writing skills. They discovered the power of social media, with its pitfalls and dangers. But most of all, they worked together, shared experiences, and built friendships.

In a region where political developments, regime changes, and insecurity dominate the media agenda, the issue of women’s rights remains secondary. For those participants (one man and eleven women), shaking off old ideas and tackling sensitive issues with no holds barred was a first step on the road to improved coverage.

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