Celebrating freedom: Media to empower women in Iraq

With the aim to highlight the different aspects of the relationship between media and women's rights in Iraq, the United Nations in Iraq organized a roundtable discussion attended by international and national stakeholders, the first platform of its kind towards empowering women in and through the Iraqi media.

This was part of this year's World Press Freedom Day events. The roundtable, organized by UNAMI, UN Women and UNESCO, was held on Wednesday 1 May in the UN compound in Baghdad under the theme "The role of the Media in Advancing Women’s Rights in Iraq". The roundtable brought together media professionals as well as representatives of the Iraqi Independent Human Rights Commission, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), NGOs, media syndicates, the Iraqi human rights defenders federation and international partners.

The key subject of the discussions was the role of Iraqi media in promoting women's rights and gender equality nationwide. Another hot topic was the promotion of a greater participation of women in the media particularly at the decision-making levels, with a view to strengthen women's political participation through media.

The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Mr. Martin Kobler, strongly encouraged women in general and women in media to speak more forcefully about the promotion, protection and respects of human rights for all. “Where were the women in the elections? Where were the women in the Hawija events?” he asked, emphasizing the importance of women's voices to be heard in all matters that touch upon their future and the future of their children.

Louise Haxthausen, Director of UNESCO office in Iraq, focused in her presentation on media professionals and their roles in advancing women’s rights, and more specifically on challenges faced by women working in the media in Iraq. Mrs. Haxthausen stressed that "it is essential to have a media sector that allows both women and men to have equal opportunities in terms of career development", confirming that "media can play a leading role in promoting women's rights and empowering them".  

UN Women representative Frances Guy criticized the way women are currently depicted in the Iraqi media. She insisted on the need to overcome stereotyping women in the media and to use images of strong women, carrying out important political, economical and intellectual roles.

UNAMI Political section and the Integrated Electoral Assistance Team (UNDP, UNAMI, UNOPS), in collaboration with the IHEC, presented the challenges and achievements in ensuring greater political participation of women, in particular through the electoral process. Helga Marques, UN Public Outreach Advisor to the IHEC, emphasized how media could encourage the further involvement of women on the political sphere.

Other key topics, such as women's under-representation in the media, challenges faced by women journalists and ways to enhance the status of women in key professions, were also highlighted during the event.

After a fruitful discussion, the participants issued a number of profitable recommendations that will be brought to the attention of the Iraqi authorities and addressed in upcoming conferences. These recommendations include a nation-wide media campaign on the rights of women and the establishment of a council of women media professionals.

The discussion ended on a positive note with the rewarding of the three winners of the first women journalism contest organized by the UN. Suha Audah, Enas Jabbar and Shatha al-Shabibi each received a certificate of honour assorted with a prize for their articles emphasizing on challenges faced by Iraqi women in their daily life.

As a main actor in the field of human rights and freedom of expression, and through its wide network of partners, the UN in Iraq is supporting Iraqi journalists, decision makers, media institutions, and civil society organizations to create an environment that would enable the development of a capable, responsible and independent media sector which is crucial for achieving democracy and long term peace in Iraq.

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