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Jordan: Calling for Action on Digital Violence Against Female Journalists

At their biggest gathering yet, a pioneering group of Jordanian female journalists called on media organizations, civil society and government to help combat the digital violence they face.

Rania Sarayreh has a vision for her country’s future. It includes a media industry where women like herself can work freely—without ever-present threats of online harassment, doxing and other digital harms. It’s a future where the digital tools that open new doors for female journalists aren’t double-functioning as tools of oppression. Above all: a future where they aren’t routinely self-censoring and second-guessing themselves to feel safe—as they continue enriching Jordan and the wider MENA region with their distinct voices.

Osama Mousa (SecDev Foundation) with Rania Sarayreh (Network Coordinator)

Network Coordinator Rania Sarayreh, on-site with the Foundation’s Osama Mousa.

That’s why Rania and several colleagues created the Jordanian Network to Combat Digital Violence Against Female Journalists. Since its launch in late 2022, their Network has grown as a hub for peer support, research, and advocacy. More than half of Jordan’s female journalists now count themselves as members. And this April 23, they staged their largest professional gathering yet—with 100+ participants and distinguished guests.

Held at Amman’s Mövenpick Hotel, the event convened government and civil society reps alongside legal and human rights experts, and an impressive corps of media professionals. Together, they explored impacts of digital aggression, legal gaps they face in responding, and ways to strengthen protections. By the end of a very long day, they had developed clear calls to action—for stronger policies inside media organizations and for a national strategy to tackle digital violence against female journalists.

Power of women’s testimony

The Network’s conference came hot on the heels of the MENA Regional Forum on Digital Violence Against Women that we reported on last week. Next day; same room; even some of the same participants. At that earlier event, Tunisian writer Dr. Amel Grami had shared a moving message on the power of documenting survivors’ testimonies. She said it’s a way to replace images of vulnerability with a narrative of resilience that can empower other women.

Building narrative is one of the Network’s distinctive strengths. No surprise there: its members are storytellers by profession. All day long, we saw this play out on the conference floor, as speakers connected ideas to accounts of women’s agency—their strategies, approaches and successes in the face of digital harm. Some members are surfacing this in their everyday work now as well, actively telling stories of digital risks and resilience.

Rania Sarayreh explained that in the two months leading up to the event, the group had documented the testimonies of 56 female journalists who’d faced some form of digital harm. Twenty-eight of those women agreed to share their stories openly at the event. Each of those stories was featured in print on a visually striking mural that loomed over the room. Several of the journalists also  appeared in a 20-minute video, released at the event, introducing the Network and its mission.

THE MURAL: 28 stories of female journalists’ resilience

A mural featuring a collage of 28 stories of digital harm faced by female journalists

THE VIDEO: On the Network, featuring journalists’ testimonies

(Arabic with English subtitles)

Panel discussions and calls to action

Across the Middle East and North Africa, the Internet is transforming journalism. Women are using new digital tools to surmount old barriers in a male-dominated profession—whether it’s by accessing sources and social spaces that once felt unsafe, or by accessing new training or media markets. But the digital tech that can empower women is also being used against them. And to unpack this new world of digital risk the day’s two main panel discussions assembled a wide diversity of experts and stakeholders:

Confronting Digital Violence Against Women Journalists: Legal Gaps and Mechanisms

Moderator: Hadeel Ghaboun
Yahya Shukair
Media law expert
Lawyer Esraa Mahadin
Director, Karak Castle Centre
Rawan Al-Damen
Director General, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism
Rania Sarayreh
Network coordinator
Toward a National Plan on Digital Violence Against Female Journalists

Moderator: Nadin Nemri
Dr. Khalil Al-Abdallat
Director, Human Rights Unit, Prime Minister’s Office
Dr. Ayman Halasa
Director, Information & Research Centre–King Hussein Foundation
Dr. Nahla Momani
Protection Commissioner, National Centre for Human Rights
Nidal Mansour
Executive President, Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists

A five member panel on the stage.
Rania Sarayreh shared Network research showing that 55 percent of Jordan’s female journalists have faced digital violence in their work. That includes everything from harassment and doxing (where personal data is leaked online) to blackmail based on faked photos. Cyberspace offers attackers a potent mix of anonymity and reach, she said, and female journalists are often targeted because they are visibly strong women expressing political and social positions.

For women working in media, impacts of digital violence can be profound. Many described their psychological distress: fear, anxiety, depression. Others spoke of self-censoring their work to avoid abuse. Still others spoke about muting their behavior, ambitions and identity as professionals—or shared stories of colleagues who’ve left the profession entirely.

While Jordanian law provides some protection against cyberbullying, the group identified key legal gaps to address. But beyond the law, many also stressed that female journalists need a fuller ecosystem of support to feel safe. They discussed ways to strengthen institutional capacity to recognize and respond to gendered digital violence—from media institutions to the judiciary to the general public. Survivors, many said, also need better access to psychosocial support services that specifically understand gendered digital violence and its impacts.

By the end of this very full day, the group had developed two substantive calls for action:

  • Media organizations: Calling for new policies and protocols to protect female employees—including through stronger digital security, legal support for survivors, and organizational processes and cultures where reporting violence is encouraged and safe.
  • Government and civil society: Calling for a collaborative national strategy to tackle violence against female journalists—by filling gaps in legislation and building elements of an “ecosystem” of support for women in reporting and recovering from digital violence.

Coming full circle with the Foundation

The Jordan Times (Apr 26, 2024)
The Jordan Times (Apr 24, 2024)
Jinha News Agency (Apr 24, 2024)
Al Jazeera Institute (Mar 11, 2024)

The Jordanian Network to Combat Digital Violence Against Female Journalists grew partly out of an earlier Foundation initiative. As part of a four-year campaign to strengthen digital resilience across the MENA region, our Salam@ team had convened several strategic cohorts of women who were interested in stepping forward as advocates. They included lawyers, journalists and community leaders, and each cohort started with four months of workshops in digital safety and technology-facilitated violence. From there, participants formed smaller working groups to strategize practical ways to impact their own communities-of-interest.

One of those cohorts was based in Amman—and that’s where the journalist-network idea started to take shape. And Salam@ has continued to support the initiative, now with funding from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Digital Arabia Network also contributed to the Network’s capacity building activities. But it was through the leadership of Rania Sarayreh and others that the Network came to life. And now, a year and a half later, the Network is preparing to work with the Foundation in a whole new way.

We’ve just kicked off a new project in Jordan and Iraq, again with IDRC support. It’s a newly holistic approach to tackling digital violence against women (DVAW), building on our IDRC-supported research across the MENA region. How can we build more resilient governance, health and educational ecosystems to support female tech users and survivors? 

That’s what we want to discover and start doing. As part of this, the team is engaging networks of local practitioners and partners to shape strategies, research and activities. Those will include female judges, lawyers, educators, health-care workers and journalists. And we’ve come full circle: Rania’s network of journalists, born of an earlier initiative, will be back at the table enriching a new one—this time as a full partner.