01.05.2013 - UNESCO Office for Iraq

Celebrating freedom: Media to empower women in Iraq

UNESCO Iraq office director, Louise Haxthausen, speaking at the event. © UN 2013

As part of this year's World Press Freedom Day, and 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.

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", this roundtable brought together media professionals and representatives from the UN Iraq (UNAMI, UN Women and UNESCO), the Iraqi Independent Human Rights Commission, the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), local organizations, media syndicates such as the Iraqi human rights defenders federation; and international partners.

The participants debated the role of the Iraqi media in promoting women's rights and gender equality nationwide in order to encourage greater participation of women in the media particularly in decision-making levels, challenge their stereotyping in the News, and identify ways on how to use the media to strengthen women's political participation.

The Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for Iraq, Mr. Martin Kobler, confirmed that "both freedom of expression and women’s rights are top priorities for the UN in Iraq". He particularly emphasized on the role of freedom of expression, free flow of information and public debate "as essential elements of dialogue and peaceful coexistence", underlining the importance of women's participation in this regard.

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 discussed during the event.

After a fruitful discussion, the participants issued a number of profitable recommendations that will be brought to the attention of 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.

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 allows the prosperity of freedom of expression and 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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