Feminist Journalism is Essential to Democracy

Women’s Voices Are Essential to Global Democracy. We Need Your Help Saving Them.

Feminist journalism is essential to public discourse. It is essential to political debate. And it absolutely essential to free and fair democracy. Explore more at Feminist Journalism is Essential to DemocracyMs. magazine’s latest installment of Women & Democracy, presented in partnership with the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Elisa Lees Muñoz speaks onstage during the IWMF Courage in Journalism Awards on October 23, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for IWMF)

When women and nonbinary journalists’ reporting gets squashed or they exit the field, the public loses out.

When our founding mothers created the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) in 1989, they hoped to expand the privileges of U.S.-based women journalists to their peers abroad. In the nearly 35 years since, the IWMF has boldly worked toward that mandate. We have led reporting trips that launched journalists’ careers, funded investigations that changed global narratives, honored more than 150 journalists in 61 countries with awards for their courage, provided millions of dollars in direct aid to journalists in crisis, and done so much more to move the needle.

Yet our work remains. Women—particularly women of color and LGBTQI+ people—are still vastly underrepresented in the news media. In fact, research indicates that women’s representation in the global news has flatlined, if not reversed, in the 21st century.

Safety is at the core of this backslide. Gone are the days in which covering warzones or corruption were the only “dangerous” journalism jobs. Now, seemingly nowhere is safe.

Journalists face attacks on every beat, at every level of their careers, online and off. Government authorities, criminal groups and even the public target journalists with one common goal: to silence their voices.

And it works. A third of women journalists the IWMF surveyed in 2018 said they’d considered leaving the profession due to online attacks and threats. Daily, our team talks to journalists who are concerned about the backlash they’ll receive after publishing a story; some never make it to print.

Seventy percent of women journalists have experienced some form of harassment, threat or attack. (Courtesy of the IWMF)

When women and nonbinary journalists’ reporting gets squashed or they exit the field, the public loses out. The access, nuance and perspective these journalists bring to the table is vital to a more diverse, free press—without their stories, democracy suffers.

The IWMF is continuing to break barriers for women and nonbinary journalists so they can report safely. This year, we’ve provided holistic, identity-informed digital and physical safety training to nearly 300 journalists and 19 newsrooms around the world. In 2020 we convened the Coalition Against Online Violence, a growing group of more than 70 organizations, companies, and newsrooms working to find solutions to online abuse. And we continue to be the world’s leading funder of women-produced reporting, ensuring more women can pursue underreported stories that may otherwise go untold.

You have a role in ensuring more reporting by women, about women.

  • Check bylines and make sure you’re consuming reporting by women.
  • Seek out stories from diverse sources (including those listed on the homepage of this installment of Women & Democracy).
  • Call out and raise awareness of attacks against journalists.
  • Follow our work at iwmf.org.

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Elisa Lees Muñoz directs the International Women’s Media Foundation to achieve its mission of breaking barriers for women journalists. Before joining the IWMF 15 years ago, Elisa lead the Crimes of War Education Project, and before that monitored the human rights of scientists for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.