The meetings of the networks of women journalists and communicators of the Mediterranean began in 1991 at the initiative of the Sicilian journalist Nella Condorelli and the Catalan journalist Montserrat Minobis. Since then, a series of meetings and debates have been held in diverse Mediterranean cities in which participants have talked above all about freedom, the degree of freedom that has enabled their protagonists to do journalism and activism in communication with a gender perspective. On this path of freedom capable of giving a voice to many women, throughout the years many issues related to the principal pillars of the profession have been discussed, in a context in which some recognition and progress have been achieved. However, all over the Mediterranean region there is still a lot to do, and with some urgency.
It’s about freedom, undoubtedly! About ours, the freedom we enjoyed or not when we were young and the freedom we have today. About the degree of freedom that has enabled us to reach this point in our personal journey in which, through the practice of professional journalism and activism in communication with a gender perspective, we have become women who give a voice to other women and, therefore, a sorority for freedom and for all their rights. This is mainly what unites us, we women journalists with a gender perspective of the Mediterranean: a call for freedom indissolubly linked to women’s human rights. And to move ahead in the achievement of our rights, it is necessary to bring women to the fore, in their diversity, particularly those who do not appear in the media and less so in the news. The aim is to promote their work and struggles throughout the Mediterranean so that we can know on an equal footing – something which should be part of all the forms of expression of human beings – about their ideas and their projects to change this region of the planet, which is so diverse and rich. A better world will never be possible without them, without us.
We draw on the human rights statements (UN Declaration, 1948), on those of the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 18 December 1979) and on the agreements of the Euro-Mediterranean Conferences, especially those of the Istanbul Convention (the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, 2011), especially in its section on education and communication.
Contributing with this article to the dossier on “Mediterranean Women Breaking Barriers”, issue number 34 of the journal Quaderns de la Mediterrània, on the occasion of the 5th Euromed Ministerial Conference to strengthen the role of Mediterranean women, at the request of its editor-in-chief, the reputed anthropologist Maria-Àngels Roque, is a pleasure. I have accompanied her as a member of the Mediterranean Network of Information and Communication with a Gender Perspective and of the International Network of Women Journalists and Communicators of Catalonia at the Anna Lindh Foundation only in a very small part of everything she and the IEMed are doing to promote the mutual awareness of women on all Mediterranean shores, in her case in the artistic, cultural and communication fields. We have always understood each other.
As a former Coordinator of the first network and current Vice-President of the second, I endeavour to convey what we advocate in our debates. Debates that have mainly focused on two types of meetings, those of women journalists and communicators of the Mediterranean and those of women journalists of the Mediterranean in zones of conflict. Meetings which, perhaps, would have not been possible without the involvement of two of our leading lights: the Sicilian journalist Nella Condorelli and the Catalan journalist Montserrat Minobis, who unfortunately died on 11 May 2019. They were the major promoters of the first meetings of women journalists of the Mediterranean, Condorelli in Syracuse (Sicily, 1991), a city with an unbeatable location with respect to Tunisia, to enable ideas to cross a bridge of mutual knowledge of the realities of the two shores, and Minobis in Barcelona, where, on the occasion of the 1st Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial Conference in 1995, she and other colleagues managed to hold the conference “Women Journalists, the Mediterranean and the Future”, organised by the European Network of Women Journalists and the Association of Women Journalists of Catalonia, which I was able to attend at the College of Journalists of Catalonia.
Our debates mainly have focused on two types of meetings, those of women journalists and communicators of the Mediterranean and those of women journalists of the Mediterranean in zones of conflict
Our objective was to create avenues of exchange and cooperation by breaking down the wall of ignorance. “The countries on the northern and southern shores should understand each other and dialogue, because what happens in the south also has repercussions in the north and vice versa”: these words, inspired by respect for diversity, were said in the conclusions of “Women Journalists, the Mediterranean and the Future” (Barcelona, December 1995), an event attended by women journalists from Albania, Algeria, Bosnia, Egypt, Catalonia and Spain, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Morocco, Turkey and Tunisia. Those were times without the internet and personal computers, at least individual or at home, and continuing was difficult for us although our debates resumed onsite twelve years later.
Over the years the demands have continued and we have advanced in some issues but in others we have actually regressed. Thus we still insist on: the role of women as agents of social change; seeing women not only as protagonists but also as sources of information with new outlets in the media; trade union rights against precarious work conditions, which mainly affect women journalists, and the establishment of equitable production routines; the need for directories, databases and publishing projects; support for studies about women journalists in the Mediterranean countries with the same methodology; networking and onsite meetings; training in workshops and seminars, and so on.
We committed to “joining efforts and aims to promote, via the internet, a permanent contact for sharing news that affects the societies from both shores and that, very often, are overlooked or silenced in the media
“The fight for a real dialogue in favour of peace and the human and social rights of women as necessary conditions for the development of the Mediterranean region.” This was the objective that a hundred participants from both shores of the Mediterranean agreed on in the 2nd Conference of Mediterranean Women Journalists and Communicators, held at the IEMed (Barcelona, October 2007), with the participation of Palestine, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Italy, France, Tunisia, Morocco, and Catalonia and Spain. Under the motto “We Communicate with Another Perspective. A Bridge for Peace and Human Rights”, we committed to “joining efforts and aims to promote, via the internet, a permanent contact for sharing news that affects the societies from both shores and that, very often, are overlooked or silenced in the media.” Thus, we always work with women’s human rights as an emblem and, whenever possible, through a website as a specific tool for this network of Mediterranean women journalists and communicators, reasserting ourselves in the need to change the routine of news production that reinforces the stereotypes about women and providing a response to attacks on freedom of the press.
Mediterranean women journalists living in zones where there are conflicts have to face one of the most heartbreaking issues. Some of them have highlighted the key role of women in developing peace processes in the area. There are many women journalists in the south and east of the Mediterranean who want to speak out but are silenced in their countries. They are in the Sahara and Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan or Palestine. Women living in countries in conflict without the possibility of denouncing the daily violations of women’s human rights and living in conditions of persecution or forced to exile themselves led us to create a newsletter based on the spirit of the agenda and recommendations produced during the Meeting of Women Journalists and Communicators from Countries in Conflict in the Mediterranean (IEMed, Barcelona, September 2008). An agenda and recommendations endorsed in the 3rd Mediterranean Meeting of Women Journalists and Communicators held in Marrakesh.
The agenda focused on two issues: family laws; and the different types of violence against women, both domestic and related to war, economic, social conflicts, and so on. In our work as journalists, we set out to: publish information alerts; collect reports on the lives of women affected by conflicts, displaced, refugees, peace activists, and so on; recover historical memory, dealing with issues such as damage reparation or the difficulties of returning; promote 25 November as the day against gender-based violence in the countries of the Mediterranean region; and, finally, create a European award for the media outlet or journalist with the best article or report on the situation of women in the Mediterranean. Notable among the recommendations were: summarising the legislation in force on the rights of women in the different countries, highlighting the contradictions with their respective constitutions and collecting the existing documentation on the issue to ask a team of lawmakers to produce the material (in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine); preparing an internet search engine of women journalists and communicators of the Mediterranean with their speciality; and enabling women journalists and communicators to publish reports with a penname on issues prohibited in their countries.
They were topics conceived for reports and interviews, and some of them are still on the agenda, such as the European policies to reinvigorate the role of women in the Mediterranean and the current state of human rights in these countries
Dones, periodistes i conflicte a la Mediterrània / Mujeres, periodistas y conflicto en el Mediterráneo / Women, Journalists and Conflict in the Mediterranean was born with the objective of giving a voice to all these women and issuing their message via internet on both sides of the Mediterranean. Our objectives were to talk about issues prohibited or censored in the south of the Mediterranean such as: sex abuses within the family and in the workplace; honour killing; female genital mutilation; family violence; marriages of convenience and with under-age girls; the helplessness of women in court, marital affairs and divorce in a political sense; the cases in Islamic courts that are rushed through to disadvantage women and in which they receive unfair treatment; and the violation of the rights of women in all respects.
And it could be done for some time, giving a voice to women who suffer these types of violence and to women journalists who want to denounce them, as well as denouncing the macho violence that exists in the northern shore countries, exercised by men but also by patriarchy institutions, a part of the judiciary, some political parties, the Church, and so on. For this reason, the different issues of the newsletter featured accounts by women who have had their rights violated and began analysing the legislation to confront the type of legal protection and legal shortcomings.
Disseminating the information on Maghreb women migrants in the south of Europe, the recovery of women who played an outstanding role in the history of their countries, civil rights, family laws and the best practices by governments with a gender perspective, as well as the participation of women in local elections were the most debated and agreed issues during the 3rd Conference of Women Journalists and Communicators of the Mediterranean held in Marrakesh (Morocco, October 2008). They were topics conceived for reports and interviews, and some of them are still on the agenda, such as the European policies to reinvigorate the role of women in the Mediterranean and the current state of human rights in these countries.
The specific workshops on freedom of expression, macho violence, and technologies to increase the capacity-building of women journalists and communicators of the Mediterranean, as well as taking stock of experience related to international information and best practices of journalism with a gender perspective on the countries in conflict in the Medi terranean made us aware of the daily work in that region.
The conference “Cronache Migranti – Donne fuori dai luoghi comuni / Migrant Chronicles – Women Outside Commonplaces” introduced us to the factor woman in news. The motto of the meeting asked: “What new direction for the portrayal of women in the Mediterranean media” (Rome, March 2011), with debates on: news with a gender perspective; diverse experiences; information, language and gender on internet; the increased instability and feminisation of the profession, the career and power; television via internet; and the portrayal of women, the new frontier.
Women journalists and the portrayal of women in the new scenarios in the Mediterranean led the debate towards gender stereotypes and the portrayal on television of the “other women”. We also discussed the female figure in news about the Arab world and in television series; women journalists in conflict zones, a dangerous profession; gender and human rights or when good news is not news; women migrants and the right to inform. In short, we dealt with the right to information as a tool for a plural vision and portrayal of women in the media. A proposal which emerged and is still pending specification was working to achieve a Charter of Women Journalists of the Mediterranean.
Violence against women at risk; women refugees from the Middle East and the legal and social coverage of women after the uprisings in the Arab countries were the issues that concerned us most in the Mediterranean Network Meeting on Information and Communication with Gender Vision “Communicators of the Mediterranean: denunciation of violence and promotion of Women’s Human Rights” (Barcelona, April 2016). The review of common current topics and specific issues related to the advances and setbacks of journalism with a gender perspective and the situation of women journalists and communicators filled the remaining time of the conference-work meeting.
It could be argued that the most outstanding conclusions of these debates for the world of journalism were the need to create a code of ethics and code of image and the urgency to increase the number of women with senior positions on editorial boards. In the social and political field, we agreed to ensure that women are the main beneficiaries of the political public space and, therefore, it is necessary: to give more room and time in the media to women as participants, experts, policy-makers and protagonists of civil society; develop the production and dissemination of knowledge on equality, women and gender; and create spaces to monitor the evolution of the agreements of the states of the Union for the Mediterranean on local equality and civil society.
Women journalists and the portrayal of women in the new scenarios in the Mediterranean led the debate towards gender stereotypes and the portrayal on television of the “other women”
The meetings of women journalists and communicators of the Mediterranean have been taking place in Barcelona, Marrakesh, Rome and again in Barcelona until this very year.
The topics recently addressed in the meeting “Communicating the Mediterranean with a Feminist Perspective”, held at the IEMed (Barcelona, 4 and 5 November 2021) were communication and the Sustainable Development Goals and 2030 Agenda in the Mediterranean; social, peace and migration movements in the Mediterranean; best non-sexist practices; and the professional situation of women journalists.
Although sometimes it has lost momentum, the spirit of mutual awareness of our cultures, of our creations, is the same. With our drive and with institutional support, we women journalists of the Mediterranean working within a network would undoubtedly contribute to improving the life of the women in our countries and, therefore, to more democratic societies with greater respect for human rights in the south, east and north of our sea.
Given that the right to communication must be secured through public policies that ensure diversity and plurality, we ask the 5th Euromed Ministerial Conference to strengthen the role of women in society to issue the pertinent recommendations and take the measures to guarantee the key role of women journalists in the mainstream media while providing for communicative spaces of their own and networked to be able to develop their work as journalists on the path towards equality between women and men in the Mediterranean region. Two conclusions stand out, and are also recommendations: a) to give more room and time in the media to women as participants, experts, policy-makers and protagonists of civil society; and b) create spaces to monitor the evolution of the agreements by the Union for the Mediterranean states on local equality and civil society. And we also have some proposals: promote campaigns so that stereotypes do not continue to be reproduced on all shores of the Mediterranean, and submit guides and contents in all the education processes at all levels of formal education, from basic to doctoral programmes, agreed with the associations of women journalists and NGOs involved.
But, first and foremost, it is necessary to protect women journalists, communicators and bloggers, who not only suffer every day the generalised macho attitudes and violence in our patriarchal societies for the fact of being women but are also prosecuted for their advocacy of freedom of information and, therefore, for their work to achieve a more democratic journalism. The data – provided by the International Federation of Journalists and the UNESCO 2021 surveys – attests that women journalists are the most affected by the insults and hatred discourse – three of four of them suffer from it –, as well as the threats and intimidation online and sexual harassment in their work environment. We should be able to express ourselves without danger throughout the Mediterranean, but we have recently seen an increase in violence against women reporters and bloggers, which has eventually led to arrests and sometimes long periods in prison. Governments should firmly commit to stopping this repression. There is no time to lose.
We have recently seen an increase in violence against women reporters and bloggers, which has eventually led to arrests and sometimes long periods in prison
In recent years, with great effort, women have achieved the recognition of some rights in family and social issues but many are still many pending, in some countries, in terms of sexual and reproductive or education rights, for instance. Generally, throughout the region we are still half way through or at the start of a future of equality. We must act urgently.
 Some pioneering women journalists who have been involved in the network, along with Montserrat Minobis and Nella Condorelli, are: Nacéra Benali and Nadia Aitzai (Algeria), Olga del Río and Maria Teresa Velázquez (Catalonia), Randa Achmawi (Egypt-Palestine), Carla Fibla (Spain and Morocco), Isabelle Fougère (France), Kawther Salam (Palestine), Emna Soula (Tunisia) and Nadire Mater (Turkey). We should also mention the names of some women colleagues and some male colleagues who have participated in the meetings: Sara Bouchetob (Algeria-Belgium), Lynda Abbou (Algeria), Borka Rudic (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Alícia Oliver, Marta Ayora, Lidia Vilalta and Tona Gusi (Catalonia), Salwa el Aquaji el Gharbi (Catalonia-Morocco), Rawan Al Basch (Catalonia-Palestine), Abir Fekih (Catalonia-Tunisia), Sadia Boudaglia (Spain-Morocco), Zakia Lamrini (Morocco), Jamal Eddin Naji, Hadda Kechon, Leila Chafai, Ibnou Cheikh, Nadia Lamhaidi and Zoubaida El Fathi (Morocco), Intissar Rachdi (Morocco-Great Britain), Sahar Talaat (Egypt), Esther de Rosa, Cristina Fraga and Marta Ortiz (Spain), Lola Fernández (Spain), Lucia Odriozola (Spain), Dionysia Vovou (Greece), Rita Mattei and Arianna Voto (Italy), Haifa Haidar (Jordan), Jumana Haddad and Nariman Shamaa (Lebanon), Hayman Kamel (Libya), Alaa Karajeh (Palestine), Marian Galindo (Syria), Asma Fatma Moatamri and Olfa Belhassine (Tunisia), and Burcu Karakas (Turkey), among others.