The JSafe app, created by the Coalition For Women in Journalism, could be a leading solution in the fight against harassment of women working in media.
By Audra Heinrichs.
Veteran journalist and founder of the Coalition For Women in Journalism (CFWIJ), Kiran Nazish knew the varying threats facing female and femme journalists long before #MeToo. As an award-winning foreign correspondent covering conflict, peace, and security in the Middle East and South Asia for several years, Nazish became adept at living and working with fear as a steadfast companion. What company she found herself exceedingly uncomfortable with however, is the knowledge that many of those fears are exclusive to female and femme professionals in the industry.
Recently, the coalition, an international, intergenerational network of females and femmes in journalism, launched a new extension of its work: an app, called, appropriately, JSafe. Alongside the Reynolds Institute of Journalism at the University of Missouri, CFWIJ spent nearly two years building the app with the purpose of adequately addressing sexual and professional harassment, online trolling, and physical threats that female and femme journalists face.
After being awarded the Daniel Pearl Fellowship in 2014, Nazish found herself at the New York Times, covering terrorism court in Manhattan, the NYPD, the Muslim community in New York, and assisting at the foreign desk. In 2015, as she investigated the influence of intelligence agencies on civilian government in Islamabad, she became the subject of overwhelming harassment via threatening phone calls and was pressured into dropping the story by those most threatened by her discoveries.
“I feared stepping out of home, answering the phone, or calling the electrician to fix the lamp in my living room. I grew suspicious of neighbors, cab drivers and friends,” reflected Nazish in a later column entitled, “Threats to Pakistan’s Women Journalists.”
It was such an instance that would inspire Nazish’s commitment to keeping fellow female and femme journalists safe and supported should they encounter similar traumas. Months later, over coffee and conversation with colleagues of varying generations, Nazish would conceptualize the CFWIJ.
“At that point, I myself had worked for almost two decades as a journalist and foreign correspondent. I’ve covered some major wars post-9/11, and I saw it everywhere–in the United States, but also in other parts of the world where women journalists were visibly not on an equal footing. That includes everything from harassment in the field, but also professional harassment, bullying, and undermining what women could do and couldn’t do.”
Since 2016, the coalition has sought to create camaraderie between female and femme journalists around the globe via a mentorship program and the advocation for a safe and flourishing professional environment.
“I thought I was the (only) one who faced all this harassment and I was going through a lot of trauma at the time. And here I was, looking at all of these really senior, smart women, badasses who had lived through that kind of environment as well,” explained Nazish when speaking about the coalition’s development. “I saw that their struggle–all the time and energy they were spent trying to work in a difficult industry–was undermined and invisible.”
In addition to providing tools to document and report any form of threat or violence one may encounter, or have encountered in the field, the app provides a space for community care for those harmed as well.
In a statement following the app’s release, Nazish wrote: “Over the last three years we have been documenting threats women journalists face in the exercise of their profession. We have received a lot of feedback from women reporters and we continue to do our best to support women journalists. With this application, we hope that we will be able to provide an important tool to every woman journalist around the world in order to report a violation, threat, harassment, and help when necessary.”
While she and her team are hopeful that the spaces they’ve created are serving female and femme journalists and members of media the way they intended, she is realistic that those outside the industry may not understand the dangers and the urgency to which the culture must change to foster a kind of safety it’s never known.
“As journalists, we are public servants. Our work is to serve the public and to be in the background. We never want to be the story, and that’s where the problem begins,” explained Nazish. “Continuing to raise awareness and consistent conversation is necessary and I think every time we see female journalists facing any kind of difficulties those stories help to create that awareness.”