The conference “Communicating the Mediterranean with a Feminist Perspective”, held on 4 and 5 November 2021 in Barcelona, was a great opportunity to bring together women journalists from both shores of the Mediterranean. The objective of the meeting, held for the first time twenty-six years ago, was to build bridges of dialogue, alliances and cooperation between women journalists around the topics of visibility and work for the construction of a fairer, more equitable and more sustainable society. Being a woman and a journalist is no easy task, because all of them face many risks, such as harassment, violence or sectarian, racial or gender discrimination, often in very unstable conditions. For these reasons, it is fundamental to create spaces of meeting like this one, where women journalists can share their stories, visions and experiences, and create links based on solidarity. Moreover, institutional support is essential for these types of initiatives.
Under the title of this article, on 4 and 5 November 2021 Barcelona hosted a conference organised by the European Network of Women Journalists (ENWJ) with the participation of over twenty journalists as speakers, and attended onsite and online by approximately one hundred and fifty people, mainly journalists. Interest was very high, and the ENWJ had the opportunity to organise, for the second time, a meeting of women journalists that seeks to continue creating links between the two shores of the Mediterranean.
Twenty-six years have elapsed since the first meeting and, despite the many changes affecting women at a legal and social level, working as a journalist is still subject to extreme violence in some Mediterranean countries. Building a real bridge of dialogue and communication between the two shores and creating alliances and cooperation between women journalists were two of the objectives sought by this meeting, which endeavours to explain the Mediterranean from a feminist perspective.
With the aim of working on building our own discourse, whose central pillar is the visibility of women and their work in the construction of a fairer, more equitable and more sustainable society, two major topics were addressed on the first day: communication linked to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda for the Mediterranean, bearing in mind that climate change significantly affects the Mediterranean basin and will continue to do so, which is why we are already talking about the “ground zero” of the climate crisis. We have seen it in recent years with the increase in temperatures, fires, droughts or torrential floods that have devastated much of the Mediterranean coast.
The second topic was related to social movements, peace and migration in the region ten years after the social uprisings in the Arab world. These uprisings led to civil wars, which still continue in some countries along with other conflicts in the area. Thus, the question we asked ourselves was: What can the role of women be as agents of change and transformation in reinforcing social dialogue in favour of human rights and making the movements in defence of peace visible? The question also took into consideration that twenty-one years had elapsed since United Nations Resolution 1325, which, among other aspects, calls on the parties in conflict to respect the rights of women and their participation in peace negotiations and later reconstruction.
Kamel, now in exile, denounced the lack of freedom of expression and the prosecutions and violence against the press
This panel was attended, among others, by Alaa Karajah, who told us about the Israeli occupation in her country, Palestine, and how it affected her work as a journalist; or the Libyan journalist Hayam Kamel, who denounced the non-existence of a Libyan state capable of guaranteeing the basic rights of the population. Kamel, now in exile, denounced the lack of freedom of expression and the prosecutions and violence against the press. Of the journalists invited, the only one who was unable to attend was the Algerian Lynda Abbou; the Spanish Embassy did not grant her a visa although we contacted it and other organisations.
The objective of the second day was to discuss the alliances and cooperation between women journalists, fostering a better understanding of the different realities that make up the Mediterranean and reflecting on the situation of women journalists and communicators in this area. What is the professional situation experienced by women journalists? What is the state of journalism today? Where are women journalists? How has the pandemic affected us? What can women journalists contribute? What challenges are we facing? These are some of the questions we asked ourselves.
It was also important to know the best practices of non-sexist communication. The new information and communication technologies (ICT) have changed the world and have fostered contact between us. Currently, there are many groups and networks of women journalists and communicators. How do we work? How can we be more effective? Do we want to build our own feminist discourse? What proposals would we like to put forward?
Of course, the global crisis and the pandemic have harmed the media, as seen when reviewing the professional situation in the different countries. But it is also true that, faced with this situation, collaborative spaces and initiatives have been launched to confront them.
First Meetings of Women Journalists of the Mediterranean
We can locate the origin of the meetings in Sicily against the background of the first Gulf War. In 1991, the Coordinamento Giornaliste Siciliane and the monthly magazine Noi Donne – a historical women’s magazine founded in 1944 by a group of antifascist, socialist and communist women exiled in France, who later founded the UDI, Unione di Donne Italiane – organised a conference in Syracuse (Sicily) to debate the role of women journalists in armed conflicts.
At the head of the organisation of the international meeting “Sent to the Front. War and Guerrilla Warfare in Women’s Chronicles” was the journalist Nella Condorelli, who ex plained: “At that time war reports were almost exclusively filed by male correspondents. My colleague Carmen La Sorella (RAI) was the first woman journalist to go to the Gulf front as a correspondent, and very few of us followed her. It was totally new in a sector dominated by men, and the presence of women journalists unleashed a wide debate inside and outside the feminist movement.”
Is war a news story like any other? Do women war reporters have a different perspective? A different narrative? How is war reported from a female perspective? These were some of the questions that 74 women journalists from Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco asked themselves. Together they debated this in total freedom, moving between the accounts of personal experiences and the comparison of professional issues, analysed country by country.
The event was attended by the Catalan journalists Montserrat Minobis, Mar de Foncuberta and Joana Gallego. Gallego told us about the meeting: “Those were the years of the Gulf War and we, as journalists, were very concerned about what was happening. This is how the idea of an International Association of Women Journalists of the Mediterranean emerged, which would later have a very important role. For two days we discussed all aspects that affect women when war breaks out.”
This would be the foundation of an incipient Network of Women Journalists of the Mediterranean, which other networks would later join. Notable in this respect is the conference “Women Journalists, the Mediterranean and the Future”, organised by the European Network of Women Journalists in Barcelona in 1995. Or the 2nd, 3rd and 4th International Meeting of Women Journalists and Communicators with a Gender Perspective of the Mediterranean, held in 2007, 2008 and 2016, organised by the International Network of Women Journalists and Communicators of Catalonia (Xidpic.cat in Catalan) along with other associations.
Other countries and organisations have held more meetings with the aim of continuing to create strategies that shed light on and improve the image of women in the media
Certainly, these have not been the only meetings of women journalists from the Mediterranean. We could say that they are almost a drop in the ocean. Other countries and organisations have held more meetings with the aim of continuing to create strategies that shed light on and improve the image of women in the media, among other aspects. The last media survey, presented in 2021, notes that women account for only 25% of the people covered by the press, radio and television.
Consolidating the Networks of Women Journalists in the Mediterranean
Associations, networks, forums… no matter what we call them, many women journalists in the Mediterranean wish to be connected, which also responds to the urgent need to improve our work and professional situation together.
In the last international meeting “Communicating the Mediterranean with a Feminist Perspective” (2021), we again looked at the need to consolidate an informal network of women journalists that could help us support each other and circulate information. And why a network? These are some of the answers:
The Palestinian Alaa Karajah told us that networks “are very important and necessary to support and empower women journalists, discuss and solve their problems, and achieve a positive social change in terms of thinking and behaviour in relation to justice and gender equality.” Patricia Mayorga, from the Worldwide Association of Women Journalists and Writers, explained from Rome: “I am convinced that networks are always important because they not only enable synergies to be established but also experiences to be exchanged. In reality, it is about realising that, beyond the place we live and/or work, there are many situations in which, perhaps with different nuances, we can establish common agreements, bridges and opinions.”
But not all the answers are positive. The journalist and writer Yolanda Alba, editor-inchief of El Boletín, a Mediterranean publication on women’s rights, published in the late 1990s by the Comunidad de Madrid and the UNESCO Mediterranean-Women Programme, told us: “Networks have been of little use other than giving us a sense of solidarity. The system swallows up their objectives. I am pessimistic. We have reached unexpected limits in terms of sexist, sensationalist and discriminatory coverage. We have achieved advances, such as the removal of prostitution ads in newspapers, but we still need to improve the treatment of news on macho violence. The opinion forums are extremely masculinised… and the patriarchal system prevents us from doing our job well. Personally, I think it is fundamental to change it in depth: to transform this patriarchal imaginary with new thinking. But it is difficult…”
And to avoid being swallowed up by the system, as Alba says, we need strategies and alliances: “I think that we have a lot of room for exchange and common learning; to share values and, above all, to advance in gender issues and policies in the different countries. In Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the Western Balkans we are firmly confronting the new re-patriarchal processes of our societies and the return to conservative and antiquated positions of women in society, including journalism,” points out Borka Rudić, from the Association of Journalists of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The Mediterranean is a space of common stories which enables us to find identities similar to ours while becoming familiar with completely new stories and cultures
For Lola Fernández, from the trade union Sindicato de Periodistas de Andalucía, “it is important to create horizontal alliances between organisations of women journalists throughout the Mediterranean, with very special attention to young people who are making real strides in very unstable work and professional conditions in many areas of the Mediterranean, worsened by an extreme lack of security, which often obliges them to leave their countries to continue reporting on what happens there.”
All the women journalists contacted agreed on the richness provided by the Mediterranean basin: “It is a sea around which people from different cultures meet, capable of creating wonderful integration and a great power to achieve common interests,” said Nariman El Chamaa from Lebanon. According to Fernández, “the Mediterranean is a space of common stories which enables us to find identities similar to ours while becoming familiar with completely new stories and cultures, hence its richness. It is the cradle of the knowledge of everything which, centuries later, we are enjoying; however, the lack of clear interest in generating spaces that enable everything this area possesses to be showcased is often frustrating.”
For Mayorga, “it is an enormous pool of news, although the main limit is that, with a few exceptions, between both shores the flow of information and, consequently, the communication narrative, are almost inexistent.” Teresa Velázquez, from the Mediterranean Observatory of Communication (OMEC in Spanish), sees it as a “strategic space in which a network like this one plays a key role, bearing in mind that there is still a lot of invisibility.”
And precisely to fight against this invisibility, where there is an enormous pool of news, the need arises for magazines or newsletters to be published that can tell all these stories that have not yet been told. “The point would be for information to reach women in a clear way. The stories should provide broad visions to reach us all and include their opinion to do so in the best possible way. It is important to convey examples of women notable for their efforts and to release stories that make women visible,” says María Ángeles Samperio, from the International Federation of Journalists.
Karajah shares the same opinion: “It is important to write about issues that reflect the reality of women journalists, and to cover inspiring stories of successful women in the field of the media.” El Chamaa tells us about the need to write “on freedom of information and of expression, about the obstacles faced by journalists, especially women, such as harassment, violence, and sectarian, racial and gender discrimination. And also about sustainable development and its applications, and the commitment to international agreements from a gender perspective.”
But, what should this magazine or newsletter be like? Rudić says: “I would like to see a magazine with social and gender sensitivity, with female editorial boards and female readers. I think it is important that there are united women journalists, women writers at a national, regional and international level for several reasons. The first is the strength and greater visibility of women journalists if they act together. There is also the possibility of exchanging knowledge and experiences, of sharing best practices in the protection of women in the media and of building solidarity as an essential value and a source of opportunities.” Velázquez mentions some of the strategies to maintain a network of women journalists in the Mediterranean: “Establishing synergies with organisations from the same field and with others specialising in cross-over issues of society. Holding regular meetings between the major congresses and conferences, for instance, and sectoral debate forums. Consolidating publications derived from the Network. Offering courses or training workshops in centres specialising in journalism and communications.”
Undoubtedly, implementing some of these projects requires a great effort of voluntary work, the work we women are used to providing. For this reason, it is necessary to “obtain steady funding through international organisations supporting the media and gender issues,” as El Chamaa and other colleagues argue. An example of this was given by the support of the Department of International Relations at Barcelona City Council and other organisations who enabled the meeting “Communicating the Mediterranean with a Feminist Perspective” to be held.
It is important to write about issues that reflect the reality of women journalists, and to cover inspiring stories of successful women in the field of the media
At the European Network of Women Journalists we also want to recall the opening words by the Catalan Minister for Foreign Action and Open Government at the Government of Catalonia Victòria Alsina: “I encourage you to provide your reflections to make the most of this meeting. The Government of Catalonia is at your service to strengthen the Network of Women Journalists of the Mediterranean so that it becomes an engine of change to address inequalities from a feminist perspective in and through the media.”