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March 8, 2009 – International Women’s Day

March 6, 2009

International Women’s Day is March 8, 2009.

The last year has been phenomenal for women in the news. From Hillary Clinton to Courtney Hunt, women have been steadily gaining ground and proving that, no matter their background, they can compete on an equal playing field with men.But while women have rocketed as makers of the news, much still needs to be done to recognize those women who report it.

Women reporters such as Christiane Amanpour, Katie Couric, and Arianna Huffington have established credibility and earned respect in this often man-driven business. Sadly, however, they are the exception, not the rule. While half of all bloggers are women, and while more and more women are availing themeselves of new-media tools, they remain woefully un-represented amongst those who shape and control traditional media outlets.

Women who report the news in countries where freedom of the press is either not guarantied or not recognized face the same dangers and obstacles as their male counterpart, and in addition must frequently deal with discrimination and gender-based violence.

Take, for example, four women reporters who were recently attacked and stripped naked by a secret society in the West African country of Sierra Leone. The women were reporting on the cultural practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) when they encountered their attackers, who wanted to ascertain that the women had been subjected to FGM themeselves. FGM, also called “female circumcision,” is a dangerous tradition that is still widely practiced in West Africa, despite criticism from the international community and human rights organizations working within the region. FGM is viewed by most as a practice endagering women’s health and attacking their dignity, but societies that continue to practice it believe that un-circumcised women are un-clean and unfaithful.

Last month, Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American freelance reporter for National Public Radio (NPR) was detained by Iranian authorities after purchasing a bottle of wine. Iran has since confirmed the arrest but has refused to disclose where Ms. Saberi was being held and what charges are being levied against her. Ms. Saberi, who grew up in the United States, had been living in Iran for six years and was finishing her book on Iranian culture. Reporters Without Borders has issued a call for Ms. Saberi’s release.

The family and friends of Anna Politkovskaya are still waiting for her murderer to be identified and brought to justice. Ms. Politkovskaya was a distinguished Russian journalist who extensively covered the conflicts in Chechnya as well as a prolific writer who published several books on Russia. Ms. Politkovskaya had endured threats on her life before, and had even been driven into hiding in 2001. She was murdered October 7, 2006. Though her killer did not mask his face or disactivate the security cameras, they have yet to be identified. Reporters Without Borders has asked for the creation of an international commission of enquiry so that the truth may be known about Ms. Politkovskaya’s death.

The Peter Mackler Award salutes all women who have worked against even greater odds to report the news in countries with no free press.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.