The Americas have made progress in formally recognizing women’s right to freedom of expression under equal and non-discriminatory conditions and in removing legal barriers that have traditionally prevented their full exercise. More and more women are involved in building and strengthening a representative, transparent, and accountable government in many countries and an increasing number of journalists and human rights defenders are engaged in the exercise, promotion, and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. In particular, information and communication technologies have facilitated and expanded the possibilities for millions of women to participate actively in political, economic, cultural, and social life, including the media.
Despite these remarkable advances, women in the region still face structural obstacles and discriminatory practices that exclude many women from public debate and prevent them, forcibly and persistently, from exercising their right to express their ideas and opinions publicly and to receive information on an equal footing with men. Many of these obstacles and practices are manifestations of gender-based discrimination, in addition to other factors, such as race, ethnicity, religion or belief, age, class, sexual orientation, and gender identity, that women in the region face, and they continue to create disparities in women’s exercise of the right to freedom of expression in comparison to their male peers.
The impact of these discriminatory practices is particularly pronounced on women who actively exercise freedom of expression and have a high public profile, such as women journalists, women human rights defenders, and women politicians. These groups of women are doubly attacked for exercising freedom of expression and because of their gender. In addition to the risks of threats and violence faced by all human rights defenders and journalists in the region, women belonging to these groups are exposed to additional or specific risks. By challenging chauvinistic stereotypes that disapprove of their participation in public life, they face a situation of violence and gender-based discrimination against women, as well as differentiated forms of violence from State and non-State actors. At the same time, they face a lack of protection and obstacles to access to justice that are also differentiated from their male counterparts.
The right of women to freedom of expression has been part of the work agenda of the IACHR’s Office of the Special Rapporteur since its inception. In 1999, the Office released the report “Women and Freedom of Expression,” examining for the first time the relationship between the status of women and its repercussions on the right to freedom of expression and information, and underscored those factors that lead to inequality and discrimination against women and that directly influence the exercise of freedom of expression and information, such as “women’s inequality in educational opportunities, violence against women and the need for women to become more politically involved.” Since then, it has promoted, through various mechanisms and in collaboration with the IACHR’s Rapporteurship on the Rights of Women, the development of standards to guarantee women’s right to freedom of expression and access to information as a tool to combat gender-based violence against women.
For several years now, the Office of the Special Rapporteur, together with the international community, has made efforts to draw attention to the forms of genderbased violence faced by women journalists in the exercise of their profession, as well as to the disproportionate impact of certain forms of discrimination in their work. The Office of the Special Rapporteur has paid close attention to the situation of violence against women journalists and the special or additional risks they face in their work because of their gender, and it has been part of the Office’s work agenda on an ongoing basis. In particular, the Office of the Special Rapporteur has drawn attention to the increase in violence against women journalists, including murder, sexual violence, and online violence. In addition to being subjected to the wide range of human rights violations affecting journalists in general, “Women journalists, however, disproportionately and routinely face gender-based violence in the workplace and in the field.”
Women journalists and women working in other areas of communication must deal with specific threatening environments that restrict their work and/or have a disproportionate impact on the exercise of their right to freedom of expression. From inequality at work, sexist and misogynist comments, sexual violence and genderbased killings of women (or femicide), these threats or risks tend to be invisible and are not recognized as undue restrictions on freedom of expression by most colleagues, the media, and state authorities. In turn, the lack of a protection against this type of violence and in the investigation of crimes committed against them, makes it difficult to adequately address the particular situation of women journalists and effectively guarantee the exercise of their right to freedom of expression.
Both the universal human rights system and the Inter-American system have developed norms and standards that underscore the State’s obligation to address special risks and particular factors that hinder or prevent women journalists from exercising their right to freedom of expression as part of its obligation to respect, protect, and guarantee the exercise of this right. This includes adopting the necessary positive measures to create and maintain a safe and supportive environment for women journalists to be able to work under equal conditions and free from discrimination. States also have an obligation to protect persons under their jurisdiction from undue third-party interference with their right to freedom of expression, including by companies. All companies, including the media and online platforms, in turn have a responsibility to respect human rights, in accordance with the standards developed in this area.
The objective of this report is to highlight the situation of women journalists in the region and to examine the obligations of States, as well as the role of the private sector, in eliminating the main obstacles and special or additional risks faced by women journalists in the exercise of their freedom of expression that are related to inequality and gender-based discrimination against women. The report seeks to support States in meeting their obligations and to contribute to the efforts of civil society, business, and other private actors.
The report is divided into three sections. In the first part, based on information received and testimonies gathered, the report documents the situation of discrimination and gender-based violence against women experienced by journalists in the Americas. In the second section, the report then addresses the obligations of States to ensure the substantive equality of women journalists and examines some of the obligations of the private sector in this area. Finally, the report concludes with a number of recommendations.
The Office of the Special Rapporteur recalls that a functional definition of journalists is used in this report. As expressed in other opportunities, journalists are those who observe, describe, document, and analyze events, statements, policies, and any proposal that may affect society, with the purpose of systematizing that information and gathering facts, analyses, and opinions to inform sectors of society or society as a whole. Such a definition includes media workers and support staff, as well as community media workers, “citizen journalists,” and others who may be using the new media as a tool to reach out to the public, as well as opinion leaders who become targets by exercising their right to freedom of expression.