According to Liliane Daoud, popular broadcast journalist and facilitator, the Forum offered an important opportunity to discuss new topics, such as the role of women in modern journalism, especially after the ‘Arab Spring’.
During the Forum discussions it became apparent that the evolving role of women in the media was not acceptable to everybody. Daoud said, ‘At the beginning of the day some participants were reluctant to reveal their ‘unpopular’ opinions when it comes to the effectiveness of the women in the field, and challenging the stereotypes of women according to their preconceptions. But after hours of discussions, sometimes heated, those who had said that women shouldn’t work in the field became fully convinced with the reasoned arguments for the involvement of women and changed their minds.’
Although each participant has his or her unique set of ideas and different backgrounds, according to Daoud ‘they all have reached a conviction based on the principles and rules of journalism, regardless of gender’.
Free Press Unlimited, together with the media institutions the Syrian Journalists Association and the Ethical Charter for Syrian media, organised the Forum to review the position of women working in the independent media landscape in Syria. Many media and NGO professionals, both men and women, and from outside and inside Syria took part in the Forum, either in person in Istanbul or via live stream in a closed Facebook group.
‘This was the first event really bringing all of these organisations together’, said Mona Magdy Farag Abdelmaksoud, gender and media expert for Free Press Unlimited’s Syria programme. For an open and honest discussion it appeared very beneficial that the group was an interesting variety of different point of views, women and men all with considerable experience in journalism.
Participants also discussed the personal challenges they faced and some of the initiatives they took so that they could learn from each other.
‘In these sessions we saw that whatever challenges women are facing, there are also positive initiatives that have developed within organisations to meet these challenges’, Abdelmaksoud said. ‘For instance, some organisations working in Turkey, home for many displaced Syrian journalists where there is no system for paid maternity leave, revealed they set up an informal internal system to ensure women working for their media got some time off with their newborns without having to lose income. Others explained how they made arrangements so that new mothers could work more easily from home’.
Daoud concluded, ‘What was interesting was the ability and courage of the participants, both men and women, to criticise their traditional approaches, and that they decided to work on developing their ideas and tactics according to the new insights that they have gained.’
Free Press Unlimited will broaden its gender programme in the coming years, with more focus on gender leadership.