14.03.2017 - UNESCO Office in New Delhi

UNESCO Observes International Women’s Day 2017

In observance of International Women’s Day 2017, UNESCO partnered with the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) to organize IAWRT’s 13th Asian Film Festival. The three-day Film Festival (2–4 March) included curated sections on films of varying lengths, animated films, aideo and soundphiles, and two experts’ panel discussions.

Velvet Revolution, IAWRT's 2017 ‘long documentary’ produced by Nupur Basu with Pochi Tamba Nsoh, Sidonie Pongmoni, Deepika Sharma, Ilang-Ilang Quijano and Eva Brownstein had its first public screening on 3 March. Filmed in Cameroon, India, the Philippines, the US and UK, the documentary features women in their own countries and in exile who have worked in dangerous and war-torn areas to communicate stories of importance. The film covers specific instances of women who have ‘made’ the news, often paying a high price in their efforts to reveal the truth. They include the award-winning Syrian journalist, Zaina Erhaim now living in exile in southern Turkey; a young journalist from the Philippines, Kimberlie Ngabit Quitasol; and Bonya Ahmed, the wife of slain Bangladesh blogger, Avijit Roy.

As part of the Film Festival, UNESCO supported a panel discussion titled ‘Women Reporting on Violence against Women’. With eminent women journalists and editors from India and Bhutan on the panel, the discussion focused on multiple forms of gender-based violence (GBV), media spaces to report on GBV, and the safety and working conditions of women journalists. 

In her introduction to the subject, the chair of the panel Prof. Anjali Monteiro of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, observed that GBV was not an aberration but an intrinsic part of social systems and the tendency towards the ‘normalization of violence in our societies’. Award-winning journalist Neha Dixit observed that after the Nirbhaya case of 2012, there had been a gradual growth of a space within the media that was more receptive to reporting and discussions of GBV. She argued that the intersection of class, caste and gender often made women especially vulnerable, offering an example of the rapes and assaults against women that took place during the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. In such cases, she insisted there is a need to ‘aggressively demand rehabilitation measures for victims’. Hindi language journalist Bhasha Singh however felt that on the whole there had been a ‘regressive movement against rights that should be guaranteed’ – journalists sometimes felt that the ‘political environment had turned hostile towards reporting on GBV’, and there had even been ‘a few disturbing instances of possible political patronage for violence against women’.

Violence against women is often perpetrated under the guise of ‘tradition’ or ‘culture’. As Dechen Wangmo, a journalist from Bhutan pointed out, Bhutanese citizens and the media were divided on the much debated practice of ‘night-hunting’ prevalent across large swathes of rural Bhutan. A practice that is ostensibly for young men and women to select a marriage partner often results in premarital pregnancies, the abandonment of pregnant women, communicable diseases, and the birth of illegitimate children whose fathers cannot be identified. The practice continues unabated, however, as it is thought to be a long-standing tradition or custom, and a part of local culture.

Another major challenge discussed by the panellists was the status and working conditions of women journalists themselves. Panellists acknowledged that gender discrimination and harassment were an everyday reality. Women journalists also rarely made it to senior editorial or decision-making positions – clearly, there was a glass ceiling that impeded professional growth. Several past issues of the Press Freedom Report for South Asia (produced annually by UNESCO and the International Federation of Journalists) have also drawn attention to these trends in both the Indian and South Asian media; and UNESCO’s ongoing regional initiative, ‘Women for Change: Building a Gendered Media in South Asia’ seeks to address a number of issues and challenges brought up by the panellists.

Click here for brief profiles of the films screened at the Film Festival.

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