People's Stories Freedom

Free, pluralistic and independent media, a vital pillar of democracy
May 2023
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres message on World Press Freedom Day 2023
"For three decades, on World Press Freedom Day, the international community has celebrated the work of journalists and media workers. This day highlights a basic truth: all our freedom depends on press freedom.
Freedom of the press is the foundation of democracy and justice. It gives all of us the facts we need to shape opinions and speak truth to power. And as this year’s theme reminds us, press freedom represents the very lifeblood of human rights.
But in every corner of the world, freedom of the press is under attack. Truth is threatened by disinformation and hate speech seeking to blur the lines between fact and fiction, between science and conspiracy.
The increased concentration of the media industry into the hands of a few, the financial collapse of scores of independent news organizations, and an increase of national laws and regulations that stifle journalists are further expanding censorship and threatening freedom of expression.
Meanwhile, journalists and media workers are directly targeted on and offline as they carry out their vital work. They are routinely harassed, intimidated, detained and imprisoned. At least 67 media workers were killed in 2022 — an unbelievable 50 per cent increase over the previous year. Nearly three quarters of women journalists have experienced violence online, and one in four have been threatened physically.
On this and every World Press Freedom Day, the world must speak with one voice. Stop the threats and attacks. Stop detaining and imprisoning journalists for doing their jobs. Stop the lies and disinformation. Stop targeting truth and truth-tellers. As journalists stand up for truth, the world stands with them".
May 2023
Free, pluralistic and independent media, a vital pillar of democracy, International Freedom of Expression Rapporteurs stress. (OHCHR)
(Commemorating the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day and the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of expression mandate holders from the United Nations (UN), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the African Commission of Human Rights (ACHPR), and the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) issued a Joint Declaration on Media Freedom and Democracy).
“We are alarmed that in many countries around the world laws to protect media freedom are being eroded, physical and online attacks against journalists persist with impunity and the use of courts and the legal system to harass journalists and media outlets is on the rise.
Deeply disturbing trends of authoritarianism, co-optation of public power, erosion of judicial independence, and backsliding on human rights in many established and emerging democracies creates an urgency and imperative for States to reaffirm and renew their commitment to protect and promote independent, free and pluralist media as a vital pillar of democracy and an enabler of sustainable development.
Independent, free and pluralistic media play a critical role in providing reliable news and information, enabling robust public debate, and contributing to building well-informed and active citizenry. As watchdogs, the media critically scrutinise those in power, investigate and report on matters of public interest, and by doing so, contribute to strengthening democratic processes and institutions.
The 2023 Joint Declaration on Media Freedom and Democracy highlights the conditions that independent, pluralistic, and quality media need to thrive. It outlines the role of the media in enabling and sustaining democratic societies and identifies the elements for an enabling environment for media freedom and sets out clear, succinct recommendations to States, online platforms, and the media sector.
Both States and private companies have obligations and responsibilities to address the growing threats to media freedom and the safety of journalists, and to urgently reverse the decline in public trust in democratic institutions.”
May 2023
Press freedom: Another step backwards, says the International Federation of Journalists
As international organisations and media prepare to celebrate the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says press freedom has taken another step backwards and freedom of expression is not the driver for other human rights that it should be.
On 3 May 1993, the UN General Assembly proclaimed an international day for press freedom. This day is meant to remind world governments that they need to respect their commitment to press freedom. This year, UNESCO is focussing its activities on ‘Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights’.
However, the IFJ deplores the fact that freedom of expression is far from acting as a driver for other human rights and that press freedom is clearly taking a step backwards.
“From Peru to Iran, from Sudan to Afghanistan, governments are taking drastic measures to impede freedom of expression and prevent the public’s right to know, including internet restrictions, beating, jailing and intimidating journalists, controlling media content and introducing drastic media laws and other laws to curb the free flow of information. Since the adoption of the Windhoek Declaration in 1991, very little has been undertaken to create concrete conditions at international level to guarantee freedom and security for journalists,” said IFJ President Dominique Pradalie.
The figures speak for themselves. According to the IFJ’s latest list of media professionals killed in the course of duty, 68 media staff were killed in 2022. Very few of these cases have been investigated because impunity for killing media workers has been the rule over the years.
The IFJ also points to ongoing media crackdowns, which have led to large numbers of journalists being jailed, with at least 375 journalists and media workers behind bars in 2022. China has emerged as the world’s biggest jailer of journalists.
Ongoing wars and civil unrest in countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Peru, Sudan, Ukraine and Yemen have also seen journalists being deliberately targeted and killed. Thirteen journalists have been killed since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022. And thousands of Afghan journalists and their families have had to leave Afghanistan for fear of being killed.
Digital surveillance and the widespread use of spying software have been used on hundreds of journalists in order to kill stories, putting many journalists at risk of seeing their sources and whereabouts and other personal data being publicly disclosed.
Repressive laws and Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs) have also been widely used to curb free speech and to force journalists to censor themselves all over the world.
The fragile media economy, the decline in local news reporting and poor trade union representation have led to drastic cuts in newsrooms, with massive lay-offs and increased discrimination against the most vulnerable categories of journalists.
The IFJ deplores the fact that, despite the good will expressed in the two UN resolutions (1738 and 2222) on the protection of journalists in conflict zones, no real commitment has been made to eradicate violence against journalists, to make them safer and to make any attacks against them illegal.
The IFJ calls for the urgent adoption of a binding international instrument that will strengthen press freedom by forcing governments to investigate and respond to attacks against the media.
* The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 146 countries


Hard-won gains for women are unraveling
by Natalie Samarasinghe, Ximena Saskia Warnaars
SAGE Fund, agencies
May 2023
Decades of hard-won gains for women are unraveling fast, by Natalie Samarasinghe. (PassBlue, Open Society)
Nearly a quarter of women and girls cannot escape unwanted sex. Eleven percent are unable to make decisions on contraception. The recent report from the United Nations Population Fund is the latest source of grim statistics on women’s rights. It follows a barrage of papers released for International Women’s Day in March, from the World Bank’s study showing that only eight countries offer full equal rights for women to an Ipsos survey of 32 countries revealing that 55 percent of male and 41 percent of female respondents believe that we have gone “so far in promoting women’s equality that we are discriminating against men.”
Perennially depressing, this year’s reports so far hit home harder due to the arrival of my third daughter. Like her sisters, she is fortunate to have immense privilege. Her birth was testament to that. Surrounded by health professionals and all the equipment we might possibly need, our experience was a far cry from that of Sudanese mothers cut off from medical care, Ukrainian women laboring in bunkers and the Tamil lady from my homeland, Sri Lanka, who chose a roadside C-section to give her and her baby the best chance of surviving bombs and atrocities in 2009.
But even my children’s privilege cannot shield them from the risks they face as girls — and brown ones at that.
My first daughter was born when President Trump’s inauguration started the chain of events that led to some 22 million women and girls now living in American states where abortion is either banned or inaccessible. My second daughter emerged during the Covid-19 lockdown, when men seemed at last to realize that care is actually work (yes, I know, #NotAllMen but quite a few), only to go back to business as usual.
Meanwhile, women and girls continue to suffer the consequences in employment, education and gender-based violence. My third daughter arrived amid headlines of Iranian schoolgirls being poisoned and forced to wear headscarfs; the Taliban banning female aid workers; and the impacts of the global cost-of-living crisis that has, you’ve guessed it, disproportionately affected women.
In the last six years, the so-called “backlash” against women’s rights has accelerated.
Maternal mortality — long emblematic of women’s rights, given its largely preventable causes — offers a stark example. Since 2016, global progress has stagnated, as women’s health and rights have fallen down the priority list.
Deaths have risen in Europe and in the Americas, increasing by 40 percent in the United States. The country has long been the West’s health laggard due to systemic inequalities, yet it is the richest nation in the world. Now the overturning of Roe v. Wade threatens even rich white women.
From my perch in Britain, it feels much harder to speak out than it did just a few years ago. The Ipsos survey showed that the share of people who are scared advocating for women’s rights has doubled since 2017, to 29 percent. Sexists and racists, meanwhile, seem emboldened, from ridiculous stories blaming women’s empowerment for all the world’s ills to chilling comments about slavery.
So what can be done? First, we must never de-prioritize the fight for equality and continue to push for women’s rights despite the pushback — in the courts, in our communities and online. While other challenges may dominate the headlines, they are unlikely to be solved if women and girls cannot achieve their full potential.
Second, we must fund the people and programs striving to advance women’s rights. Only four percent of bilateral official development assistance goes to programs where gender equality is the main objective, and only one percent of that reaches grass-roots groups. This is why Open Society where I work has committed to support feminist movements and leaders.
Most challenging of all, we need to get serious about transforming our economies and societies. Since the 1990s, governments have embraced development agendas based on the reassuring formula of economic growth, while frameworks aimed at addressing structural inequalities, such as the Beijing platform for women’s rights, have floundered seriously. This must all change.
Climate change should have prompted social and economic transformation decades ago. Instead, we are on the brink of irrevocable damage. From conflict to debt, pandemics to atrocities, we now face a downward spiral of crises because we opted for a “whac-a-mole” approach to solving them rather than addressing the systemic inequalities that lie at their heart.
Perhaps seeing the threats facing our daughters, sisters, mothers, friends and colleagues grow ever more dangerous will move us to act at last. If we don’t, we have a heartbreaking example of what “gender apartheid” looks like — Afghanistan today — where women recently told UN experts: “We are alive, but not living.”
Apr. 2023
Supporting women and their communities engaged in extractive struggles
Around the world, communities impacted by extractive industries—mining, drilling, logging—face multiple and intersecting forms of violence. That violence is gendered in its operation and in whom it benefits and harms.
Building Power in Crisis explores the breadth of structural violence created or reinforced by extractivism, from political violence against women environmental defenders to economic violence that threatens women’s livelihoods. Centering the experiences of women and girls in frontline communities, the report lifts up their strategies to resist extractive development and lead with bold and sustainable alternatives.
Based on nearly 100 interviews with women leaders and their allies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, Building Power in Crisis provides an analysis of the opportunities for supporting women and their communities engaged in extractive struggles.
Examining extractivism’s gendered violence and honoring the women fighting for change, by Ximena Saskia Warnaars. (Ford Foundation)
15 years ago, in June 2006, local villagers in the Chiadzwa area of Eastern Zimbabwe’s Marange district discovered diamonds. A diamond rush ensued, and thousands flooded the fields, hoping to find fortune. In less than five months, the situation turned grave. As police took control of the fields, torturing, beating, harassing, arresting, imprisoning, and even killing those deemed to be illegal miners, the once peaceful Chiadzwa was radically transformed. Men and boys suffered significant abuse and torture, but gendered structural violence, which had always subjugated women and girls, was intensified and even institutionalized. Sexual assault and rape, for example, were purposefully weaponized to discourage illegal diamond mining, with hundreds of women affected.
This gendered violence was extreme but not exceptional. As an economic model, large-scale extractivism puts profit and growth over people and the planet. It drives inequality precisely because extractions are conducted under certain conditions and without the consent of the local people.
Whether it involves diamond mining in Chiadzwa or drilling, logging, or industrial agriculture in other parts of the Global South, extractivism disproportionately affects women and girls. Supported by the Ford Foundation, a new landscape analysis from The SAGE Fund—“Building Power in Crisis: Women’s Responses to Extractivism”—documents that in communities where gender discrimination is already the norm, rampant natural resource extraction and depletion results in women and girls having increased responsibilities and risks.
They are, for example, burdened with additional caretaking when men migrate for higher-paying jobs. They are forced to farm less fertile land that produces poor yields. Their movement is constrained by private security forces or government actors. They are targeted for speaking out against extractive projects. Their reproductive and respiratory health suffer. They are forced into exploitative sex work.
Bearing the greatest burden
“Everyone is at risk when they live in a community where extractivism happens,” explained Winnet Shamuyarira, the project coordinator at WoMin African Alliance, which works in more than a dozen African countries, spotlighting how extractivism exacerbates inequalities.
“But women are—and have always been—viewed as disposable. Extractivism was born out of colonialism, which wasn’t just about conquering land. It was also about taking control of women’s bodies, silencing them, and turning them into objects for male consumption. That context impacts everything.”
Over the past decade, WoMin’s research has shown, time and time again, that women carry the heaviest burden and experience extreme trauma when natural resources are taken from their land and exported on a massive scale.
“Extraction happens in deeply patriarchal cultures where there is tremendous inequality,” Shamuyarira said, explaining that corporate and government actors take full advantage of this oppression, utilizing already existing power dynamics to their benefit. That means excluding women from important decision-making processes and turning their bodies into battlegrounds. “We see situations where armed men with guns are given tremendous power. They do not negotiate. They tell you what to do, and if you want to survive, you do it.”
Exercising agency, formulating strategies
“Building Power in Crisis” highlights the critical intersection of environmental destruction, gender inequality, and civic engagement. In addition to documenting the drivers of extractivism and its disproportionate impact on women and girls, the report finds that there are devastating ripple effects when women and girls are denied control over land and natural resource management.
In most of the Global South, women farmers produce between 40-80% of food. They also collect and save seeds, play invaluable roles in forest conservation, and steward local water systems.
Extractivism disrupts all of these roles and relationships, but bold women leaders are fighting back, becoming agents of change—and building, transforming, and confronting power—even when their health, safety, and livelihoods are on the line.
“What’s really worked are the collective actions that women carry out on the ground,” said Joan Carling, global director of Indigenous People’s Rights International, which addresses and prevents criminalization, violence, and impunity against Indigenous peoples in six countries across Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
“Women lie down on the roads and streets to prevent the bulldozers from coming in for mining….Communities on the ground are really standing up and have actually prevented many of these projects.”
Women are also building power in their communities by educating, organizing, and mobilizing marginalized groups who are traditionally excluded from decision-making processes. Power–building by women tends to be less top-down and more inclusive and informative.
“Women are the educators—the ones who share the information, give workshops, even if not formal, in meetings, organizing, weaving together,” said Fernanda Hopenhaym, executive director of Poder, which promotes corporate transparency and accountability in Latin American countries. “They’re the ones who are developing and strengthening the social fabric… they take advantage of these spaces to build.”
As women become environmental defenders, community conveners, and catalysts for change, they are defying the roles prescribed for them and challenging those benefiting from and spearheading extractive projects. This is nothing short of courageous, but it is also dangerous and often comes with consequences. Allies must step in and offer support. This assistance may initially look like triage.
“When we started thinking about solutions for women in Zimbabwe, we realized that we needed counselors to help them address their trauma—not just as individuals, but also collectively,” said Shamuyarira. “They needed to know that they didn’t do anything wrong. That they were the ones who were violated. And then, as we provided trauma support, we realized that wasn’t sufficient. Women needed practical solutions so they could feed their families and safe spaces so they could build their livelihoods.”
Women who have experienced and survived gendered violence also possess the most important information about how to keep themselves safe. Their systems of collective care have transformed how women receive support, removing the onus from individuals and placing it within a community.
It is possible to facilitate real development—to create women-led, collaborative, autonomous communities that build power for all.

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