Digital Rights Foundation celebrates Seven Years of Resilient Voices in the Media through it's conference

Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) held a conference titled, ‘Celebrating Resilient Voices in the Media’ on  Friday, 15th September 2023 at Mariott Hotel, Islamabad. The conference was marked as a celebratory event of DRF’s work and achievements with women journalists in the country, particularly through its Network of Women Journalists for Digital Rights (NWJDR).

The conference brought together journalists, civil society, government representatives and other stakeholders to discuss the state of media and the challenges that women journalists face in the country and celebrate their achievements despite the difficult circumstances they face working in the field.

The conference had an exciting line-up of three panels to delve into DRF’s engagement with the journalist community in Pakistan and showcased an art exhibition of hand-drawn illustrations from DRF’s magazine, Digital 50.50.

The event started off with welcome remarks by Maryam Saeed, Program Manager at Digital Rights Foundation, who added, “We have gathered today to focus on what we have built at DRF over the past seven years. We are celebrating abundance today, of the relationships and friendships our NWJDR has developed and nurtured throughout our journey.” Maryam talked about the accomplishments of the seven-year project amplifying the experience of working with and supporting women journalists across Pakistan. She also highlighted the importance of DRF’s nationwide network of women journalists which serves as a safe space where these women turn to each other for support and solidarity in the absence of support mechanisms. 

In our seven-year journey with the NWJDR, we have conducted capacity-building workshops on online safety, ethical journalism, gender-sensitive reporting and media law with more than 1,000 journalists across Pakistan. In 2020, DRF found Pakistan’s first feminist e-magazine, Digital 50.50, which provides a platform for women journalists in Pakistan to raise marginalized voices. In the past four years, DRF has launched 15 editions of the magazine featuring more than 100 original contributions from journalists and 120 hand-drawn illustrations depicting the articles on digital rights covered in the magazine. We also initiated a trend of annual Residential Retreats for the Collective Well-being of women journalists in Pakistan and have so far hosted three Retreats with more than 30 participants attending each of these. 

The 1st Secretary of Political Affairs for the Netherlands Embassy, Ms. Lotte Hofste, shared opening remarks and stressed the need for a balanced gendered portrayal in media which shows a positive effect on both women and men. She also shared concerns about women journalists being attacked online mainly due to the intersection of gender and journalism and how online spaces are unsafe for them to pursue their careers.

DRF’s Executive Director Nighat Dad stated, “This conference is a celebration of the network of women journalists that we envisioned and established in 2017. Over the years, DRF has not only taken measures to empower women journalists in the media but also supported them in ensuring their presence in online spaces is safe and rewarding. As the world is increasingly becoming more restricted in terms of free expression, we have gathered together today to celebrate these women and their resilience and perseverance in working in Pakistan’s male-dominated media spaces.” Nighat also highlighted how the harassment and intimidation that women journalists face act as a barrier for aspiring journalists to enter the field and shed light on the power of resilience exhibited by the seasoned journalists who were present at the event. 

The first panel of the conference, ‘Unpacking the Mosaic of Digital 50.50’ was a conversation with the contributors of Digital 50.50 moderated by Maryam Saeed. The panelists included women journalists, Umaima Ahmed, Khalida Niaz and Aneela Ashraf, and Digital 50.50 illustrator Bushra Saleem. Khalida Niaz shared her experience of working on stories from tribal areas in Pakistan and the difficulties women journalists face in making their voices heard. She said, “platforms like Digital 50.50 are crucial to amplify women’s voices through different mediums and local languages to cater to a large audience”.

The second panel of the event was on ‘Digital Rights for journalists and media practitioners: where are we headed’ which was moderated by Benazir Shah. The panel focused on the landscape of the media in Pakistan and was joined by panelists Afshan Masab, Insiya Syed, Fauzia Yazdani and Annie Shirazi. Benazir's interventions around journalist safety and shrinking media spaces were eye-opening. She posed questions to the panel about media censorship & the role of journalists in providing access to news a vital one at the end of the panel.

The third panel moderated by Zainab Durrani, “From cyberbullying to legal action: online harassment against journalists” was joined by Malik Kamran Rajar, Secretary National Commission of Human Rights, Usama Khilji, Irum Shujah and Hyra Basit. Usama said, “Many media houses do not have policies that cater to women to begin with. There have been instances where women are fired when they are expecting and women journalists suffer greatly in their profession as a consequence of lack of a policy and legal framework.” Furthermore, NCHR Secretary added, “As Commission, it is our duty to identify the gaps in the system. And our complaint system can be expanded and a complaint filed with NCHR will see a recourse more efficiently especially if the state fails to respond.”

Digital Rights Foundation is a registered research-based NGO in Pakistan. Founded in 2012, DRF focuses on ICTs to support human rights, inclusiveness, democratic processes, and digital governance. DRF works on issues of online free speech, privacy, data protection and online violence against women.

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Seerat Khan

Anam Baloch

Maryam Saeed

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