Women Reporting War

Afghanistan, 2002.

Summary of preliminary survey on safety issues faced by females in the news media who work in areas of conflict

Sponsored by the Swedish International Development Co-operation Agency (Sida)
As part of the Global Safety Training project of the
International News Safety Institute

In response to requests, the International News Safety Institute has conducted a preliminary survey on safety issues that may affect female journalists who work in areas of conflict.

The aim of the survey, which was conducted by a questionnaire sent out by email, was to determine what safety considerations or specific safety requirements female journalists may have in terms of equipment and/or operational methods and procedures.

Over 150 questionnaires were sent to employees and freelance female journalists who work internationally and locally within news media.

The questionnaire was broken into sections with tick boxes covering personal and professional safety issues, and well as providing space for written comments and recommendations.

31 responses were returned by the deadline of 1st October. 1 response was in the form of an email. 1 questionnaire missed the deadline for data analysis. Therefore, the following findings are based on 29 returned questionnaires and analysed by The School of Social Sciences, City University, London.

However, since this is a preliminary survey involving a small group of journalist, the results should be viewed as early indications of issues and concerns rather than a full scale scientific study.


Demographic data pointed towards just over 55% of the journalists being single, and around 13% being divorced or separated. Most had worked in areas of conflict for at least three years, and several had between 12 and 16 years experience. 13 were travelling journalists, 11 were based in foreign bureaux and 5 were line producers or managers. None worked in their native country.

The majority (65.5%) reported they worked in small teams of up to 4 members, although a few worked in teams of more than 4. Only 24% worked in pairs. 34.5% reported working alone. Most have not worked with military units, nor have they been embed with troops.

Physical well-being

Disturbingly, over 82% reported physical attack or intimidation whilst covering conflict. 55.2% reported sexual harassment, 6.9% said they had experienced sexual abuse (this also included rape, although since this was not a separate question it is unclear how many have experienced rape or the threat of it). 34.5% reported physical abuse, and 41.4% said they experienced mental abuse. 7.4% reported being taken hostage.

Safety Awareness Training

Approximately 86.2% had received some kind of safety awareness training. Out of these, 86.2 % had received hostile environment (HE) training and 62.1% had First Aid training.

At the conclusion of this section, further written comment was invited concerning safety training issues.

1 reported that HE was invaluable. (She believes a combination of HE training and self defence training saved her life during an attack, although she subsequently suffered PTSD). 2 reported sexually inappropriate behaviour from HE instructor. 1 requested female HE instructors because of attitude of HE instructors. 1 reported sexual harassment from HE advisor in field. 1 thought that providing extra training for women would be disastrous. She believed there was a need to get away from clich? notion that women are more at risk.

Safety equipment: These responses are based on those who took part in this section of the survey, which differs in number from the whole questionnaire, therefore the finding are broadly presented.

Female Flak jackets: 88.9% had never used a female flak jacket. However, in written comments, 7 requested a custom-made flak jacket to fit women. 1 reported feeling ashamed to wear a flak jacket around local people who do not have them.

Protective Clothing: Most television journalists reported excellent experience of protective clothing, and about a quarter of freelancers agreed, but very few newspaper journalists concurred.

Chemical clothing: The majority of television journalists had excellent experience. Less than a quarter of newspaper journalists and none of the freelance journalists agreed. 70% of freelance journalists who responded to this section reported poor experiences.

Armoured vehicles: Most freelancers and newspaper journalists had poor experiences of armoured vehicles. 100% of television journalists responding to this section reported very good experiences.

Personal Attack alarms: Most television journalists responding to this section reported an excellent experience of personal alarms. Over half of freelance journalists had poor experiences.

Intruder alarms: Half of the television and freelance journalists who took part in this section reported poor experiences.

However, the following list of recommendations for necessary safety equipment was drawn up from written responses:
Rape alarm, or similar protection such as mace/pepper spray
Door Lock
Good medical kit
Satellite phone
Proper headscarf and appropriate chador
Wedding ring
Better helmets
Small knife for protection
Cigarettes for bribing way out of difficult situations
Good working clothes and boots
Armoured trucks that work!
Battery powered short wave radio
Chargers for cell and sat phone, which work on car battery

Afghanistan, 2001.

Afghanistan, 2001.

Stress and safety – early indications.

Evidence suggests that heavy workloads are not particularly stressful to journalists. Freelancers report that difficult work conditions are a source of stress. Poor editorial management is regarded as moderately to very stressful.

The majority of television journalists do not regard lack of appropriate safety equipment as stressful, although freelancers and newspaper journalists experience this between slightly stressful to moderately stressful.

The majority of television journalists did not find working as a female journalist in a repressive regime particularly stressful. But most freelance journalists and newspaper journalists reported this between moderately stressful and very stressful.

The majority of journalists reported working on traumatic stories as slightly stressful to moderately stressful. Most reported witnessing a colleague being wounded or killed as highly stressful.

Most reported sexual harassment as slightly stressful to moderately stressful, although a number of television and freelancers reported the experience as being very stressful.

Humiliation and ridicule were not regarded as particularly stressful. However, the majority of freelance journalists considered threat of physical attack as very stressful. Personal health issues ranged from an insignificant source of stress to moderately stressful.

Journalists made the following written comments regarding safety and stress:
1 reported feeling very emotional when reporting on dying children and women facing extreme hardship due to being a parent herself. 1 reported that management considered stress induced reactions in female journalists as a sign of weakness, but this was excused in male reporters.
1 journalist considered that people are loathed to voluntarily undergo counseling, even when offered by company.

3 reported feeling safer working in a Moslem country because of being female. (1 believed her presence saved colleagues from being shot). 1 reported verbal abuse from male colleague. 1 reported sexual harassment from male colleagues. 1 experienced sexual harassment from local fixer. 1 experienced bullying from colleague and editor

Alcohol and drug use:
Most television and freelance journalists reported using alcohol to help deal with fearful and stressful situations. However, most had not used drugs.

Leaving assignments early:
Most television journalists had not left an assignment early due to fear of personal safety, but a significant proportion of freelancers had done so. Most journalists had not left an assignment due to ill health.

Written responses provided the following observations:
6 reported that drinking was a natural part of unwinding. 1 reported drinking once assignment was over, but never during it. 1 reported drinking too much as a means of handling stress, and found this rampant with colleagues. 1 reported taking hash as a way of relaxing. 1 found ‘re-entry’ difficult and suffered from nightmares and sleeping problems.

Managerial responses – early indications

The majority of journalists did not agree that managerial responses to safety issues were particularly weak. Most did not believe that expressing concerns about safety issues would adversely affect their career prospects, although there was concern indicated by newspaper journalists.

Most erred on the side of disbelief that they would be less likely to deploy in the field by expressing their concerns. The majority of television journalist believed that management would be sympathetic and action taken on hearing their concerns. Freelancers or newspaper journalists did not necessarily share this view.

Most agreed that colleagues were supportive to personal safety concerns, and most were not inhibited by peer pressure in raising safety issues.

Written responses produced the following comments:
3 reported their bosses had little or no experience of working in areas of conflict, and this reflected in their attitude towards safety issues. 1 newspaper journalist reported the ‘stiff upper lip’ attitude is still alive and well. 2 reported that management think more about safety issues since Iraq. 1 reported sometimes being pulled in further than is comfortable due to pressure from producer and cameramen. This makes her angry particularly as she is a mother of 2 young children. 1 reported not being taken seriously by management until a male colleague had a near miss. 1 reported feeling uncomfortable talking to male boss about health issues. 1 asked for use of armoured vehicles to be taken more seriously by employees and deployed earlier.

3 reported feeler safer working in Muslim country because of being female. (1 believed her presence saved colleagues from being shot)
1 reported verbal abuse from male colleague
1 reported sexual harassment from male colleagues.
1 experienced sexual harassment from local fixer.
1 experienced bullying from colleague and editor

Most journalists agreed that expressing a need for specific safety equipment should not influence suitability for deployment. Most believed that all journalists should be treated the same way irrespective of gender. However, most disagreed or were neutral that female journalists requiring specific safety requirements was a sexist issue. Most strongly agreed that all journalists should be sent abroad on merit and not gender. Yet most were neutral or disagreed that female journalists should be provided with specialist safety equipment. Even so, a proportion of freelancers strongly agreed with this.

On the issue whether female journalists should receive further training to deal with sexual harassment or intimidation, most remained neutral or agreed with it. There was a mixed response to the question of whether HE training courses should provide extra training for female journalists.

Comments and recommendations
Further written comments and recommendations were made on safety issues, summarised in the following points:
· If you work in a team, stick together.
· Find a responsible and respectful local driver and/or fixer.
· Thorough knowledge of cultural expectations of a woman in whatever country/area of deployment
· Put helmet on first as shrapnel often flies upwards and the head is the most vulnerable.
· Listen to instinct – don’t go into areas if you feel uneasy, or feel a mistrust towards someone
· Good head on shoulders
· Supportive editors and friends
· Good local knowledge

Safety issues reported by freelancers
· a company did not pay for HE training although always referred to her as ‘their correspondent’. This angered her.
· major concern is lack of funds which means inadequate insurance
· felt pushed harder by editors because of freelance status
· management more willing to put freelancers in risky situations than staff
· management would not provide safety equipment or HE training because of status.
· armoured cars were not available to freelancers or smaller organisations.
· freelancer asked for counselling support after difficult time, but this was turned down because of status.
· management need to pay more attention to the working conditions of freelancers in conflict areas.

· Additional self-defence training
· Refresher HE courses every year, including first aid
· Specific courses for dealing with physical and sexual threats – including open discussions with male colleagues to raise awareness of this issue
· Training for male and females on how to cope/diffuse difficult situations
· Stress awareness training, including information on PTSD
· More training on local customs and language


Early indications show that the majority of female journalists do not believe they should be treated differently from their male colleagues. However, responses from freelancers show that employees need to be more supportive and understanding about safety issues and safety training, although this is also an issue that male freelancers face.

Several freelancers and staff journalists recommended self defence training as an intrinsic part of safety training. Requests were also made for female trainers to be present during HE training courses.

Further information please contact:

Rodney Pinder
Director INSI
+44 20 7737 7628


Sue Brayne
+44 77294 68289