The gloom cast by an overcast sky proved no match to the bright, spirited, and at times, belligerent voices of the women in the room. Inside the Microtel by Wyndham hotel at the UP Technohub in Diliman, Quezon City, a function hall became the venue for an international conference on “Broadcasting and Social Justice: Women in the Media on Conflict and Crisis.” It was just two days before the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila and Clark, Pampanga. And the International Association of Women in Radio and Television or the IAWRT was holding its 37th Biennial Conference.
Spanning three days (Nov. 9-11), the gathering included a series of plenary sessions, workshops, film screenings, and cultural shows, culminating in the election of the next batch of IAWRT officers.
50 SPEAKERS, 47 COUNTRIES
The conference was packed with speakers: 50 all in all, from 47 countries that included the Philippines, United States, Afghanistan, India, Moldova, United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Kenya, Cambodia, Tunisia, Malaysia, Canada, South Africa, Uganda, Cameroon, Egypt, and Nepal.
There were activist leaders of non-government institutions and people’s organizations, film makers, media practitioners, and communication specialists.
From the Philippine side, prominent speakers included former Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, journalists led by Inday Espina-Varona (ABS-CBN), Jamela Alindogan (Al Jazeera), Jhoanna Ballaran (Philippine Daily Inquirer), Violet Gonda (United Kingdom), and Luz Rimban (Vera Files); provincial and regional broadcasters that included, among others, Kathleen Okubo (Cordilleras), Janet Buelo (Quezon province), Sonia Capio (Central Luzon), and Mary Carling (Sagada, Cordilleras).
There was also representation from the Philippine government, namely: Liza Maza, lead convenor of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) and Estrella Catarata, NAPC head executive assistant.
As mentioned in their website, IAWRT is a global organization with consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
It organizes conferences, implements projects, and undertakes activities in collaboration with media organizations. Its mission is to “advance the impact of women in media.”
Sweden’s Gunilla Ivarsson, IAWRT president, said that IAWRT fights for acceptable working conditions for women media practitioners.
Speaking for the IAWRT, Ivarsson called on the ASEAN “to uphold press freedom and protect women journalists from murderous killings, harm, threats, and harassment.”
The international women’s media group said that the Philippines is ranked fifth in the 2017 Global Impunity Index by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Of the 183 journalists killed since the 1986 February uprising, five were killed under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, the IAWRT said.
It also reported that 12 women journalists have been killed in the line of duty since 1986. Of these, four were victims of the 2009 Ampatuan massacre, which occurred under the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
More than 30 journalists and media workers were killed under the Aquino administration, based on a report by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
“Over the last few years, we note the increasing number of attacks against journalists, whether in print, broadcast, or online in this part of the world. Online media women are subject to attacks at three times the rate of their male colleagues,” the IAWRT said in a statement.
Some of those who were attacked were Alindogan, Espina-Varona, and Loretta Salarda—all speakers in the conference.
Other countries have been faced with similar experiences, the IAWRT said.
It cited the case in India involving Gauri Lankesh, a well-respected woman editor and critic of right-wing Hindu extremism who was shot and killed in September of this year.
“The threat to press freedom has come from all directions,” the IAWRT noted.
It cited that in Cambodia, the Cambodia Daily stopped publication due to government pressure, according to the CPJ.
In Myanmar, the Telecommunications Act and the Unlawful Associations Act have been used by the government to arrest journalists.
Cases of sedition had been filed against journalists in Thailand, the IAWRT added.
“These are not random acts of violence. They are more often than not political persecution. And women journalists are even more exposed and vulnerable,” the IAWRT said.
During the first day of the conference, speaker and former DSWD Secretary Judy Taguiwalo underscored the role of media as reporter and critic.
She added that while she was not a media practitioner, she was an activist who once served as a “staff of an underground paper in the countryside.”
“Where there is repression, there is resistance. I know the important role of media in bringing the truth to the people,” Taguiwalo said
Speaker and NAPC Lead Convenor Liza Maza said “media now has to contend with fake news, the rightist propaganda machinery.”
The former Gabriela party-list Representative lauded the efforts of the women’s movement in the conference and added that the Gabriela Party-list is the only women’s party in any parliament in the world
Maza also expounded on NAPC’s Kilos SAMBAYANAN, a flagship campaign of the Duterte administration to fulfill the 10 basic needs of the people—food and land reform, water, shelter, work and national industrialization, healthcare, education, social protection, healthy environment, peace, and people’s participation.
Kilos SAMBAYANAN calls to mind the 11 basic needs (shelter, health/medical service, education, sports and recreation, ecological balance, mobility, water, power, food, economic base/livelihood, and clothing)—promoted by the erstwhile Ministry of Human Settlements under then First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos during the height of Martial Law.
Speaker Kathleen Okubo, an Ibaloi and staunch defender of the indigenous people’s human rights, recalled how the days of the Marcos regime made life miserable for the Igorot people and for women journalists like her.
She narrated that in 1980, of the Marcos government made the Philippines the first country in Asia and the second nation in the world to be a recipient of a World Bank loan.
Coinciding with the loan was a package of incentives for investments in the extractive industry. The resulting rush of mining companies affected mountain communities in the Cordilleras, Okubo said.
“I made a decision to write for the indigenous people because our stories were not being covered by the established media,” she added, saying she was arrested several times during the period.
Okubo’s story ended with a standing ovation from the participants of the conference.
Highlights of the IAWRT Conference included the launching of a safety handbook for women journalists, the giving of awards of excellence, and the launching of the 57-minute documentary, Velvet Revolution.
The documentary is the work of four women directors from four countries. They include Illang Illang Quijano (Philippines), Deepika Sharma (India), Pochi Tamba Nsoh and Sidonie Pongmoni (Cameroon) and Eva Brownstein (USA /Bangladesh). G