Journalism and gender equality

09. Men and women: how to physically protect yourself while reporting /

Reporting is becoming increasingly difficult given the number of conflict situations around the world. Being a good journalist in these types of situations requires mental strength as well as journalistic expertise. To this end, newsrooms need to establish good practices such as thorough assessments of risks, the importance of teamwork and briefings, adapted equipment and awareness of trauma risk.


You should find out as much as you can about the area you need to travel to. What’s the current security, social, political, health, climate, media and infrastructure context?

Familiarise yourself with the local culture, customs, dress codes and behavioural codes to better understand and integrate into the environment.

Prepare your trip well and assess the risks by asking yourself these types of questions.

First things first! Find out who will be waiting for you, the place, where you will be staying and so on, to therefore plan the conditions of your mission.

Is the information gathered accurate?

What are all the possible risks and how will you deal with them?

Does the journalistic interest of the subject really justify the risks involved?

How will you stay in touch with the newsroom, with your family?

What physical and psychological aptitudes do you need?

Before travelling

Go for a full medical check-up

Be up to date with vaccinations: record vaccinations in an international record book  

Know your blood group and allergies

Pack your bag by making a checklist

To ensure your safety during the mission when travelling to and from accommodation and the reporting location 

Choose your local contact, driver and accommodation carefully

Avoid all routine and don’t travel alone

Stay in constant contact with your newsroom and your loved ones

If you travel to a combat zone, here are some strict instructions to follow

Wear a bullet-proof vest and a helmet

Make it clearly known that you are a journalist using visible signs

Know your itinerary before any travel

If you are stopped for checks, remain calm and cooperate

If shots are fired, lay down on the ground and take cover

Sexual violence and insights specifically for women

The sexual abuse suffered by several female journalists in Egypt during the anti-regime demonstrations in Tahrir Square, and in particular the violent assault on Lara Logan, war reporter for CBS, have indeed highlighted the risks of sexual violence to which journalists and especially women journalists in the field can be exposed.

Women journalists must be able to give their opinion on who they team up with (including freelancers) and should, if possible, receive self-defence training.

Some training courses on reporting in hostile environments include modules on women’s specific needs. 

Another valuable insight: to avoid being touched in a crowd, move around with trusted male colleagues.

If an attacker threatens to sexually assault you (including, defecate, urinate or vomit on you), you can discourage them in some cultures by saying you are pregnant, have your period or that you have the AIDS virus, this breaks the adversary’s urge.

Change the subject. Scream. Run.  Don’t try to stay and fight.

Women-friendly equipment

 We don’t often think about it, but women need smaller protective gear, adapted to their body shape and in which they can feel comfortable.

Prior to each mission, female journalists and their supervisors should familiarise themselves with local customs specific to women.  

 Always dress conservatively. Trousers that close with buttons, belts and lace-up shoes are more difficult to remove.

 Don’t wear your hair in a ponytail, it makes it easier for an attacker to get a hold. 

 In some cultures, unaccompanied single women are particularly vulnerable. Wear a wedding ring, even if you are single. Wearing a wedding ring can protect you from undue attention.

If you are travelling to a Muslim country, take a headscarf or chador with you in case you need it

Be careful if you go out with wet hair. In some cultures, this can be interpreted as a sexual advance.

Be vigilant when you return to your hotel.

Alert hotel staff if you suspect someone is following you.

 Do not drink alcohol during interviews, even if you trust your source. Many rapes are committed against women who are inebriated.

 To prevent someone barging in, do not stay in a room with a balcony or terrace.

 Move the furniture against the door before going to sleep. Move the bed away from the window.

Keep a deodorant by the bed to spray in an attacker’s eyes.

Get a personal alarm.

What should you do before leaving on a risky mission?

Take the telephone number of an emergency psychological helpline. Find out where you can get AIDS medication if you have been raped by someone who may have the virus.

Here are some general insights that can save you from being attacked

Walk confidently.  Pay attention to your surroundings. Avoid drinking alcohol as it slows your reflexes

 Avoid poorly lit alleys

 Find out about your local support team 

Avoid interviewing groups of armed men alone, especially if they are drinking alcohol.

If you are sexually assaulted, don’t feel guilty. Go to a doctor (and take AIDS medication) immediately

Consult a psychologist, talk to a colleague you trust

Both men and women are advised not to hide their emotions. Find someone you can trust and confide in – man or woman.


“EVERYTHING MUST BE CAREFULLY PREPARED BEFOREHAND,” Iqbal Khattak, journalist and RSF correspondent in Pakistan

“DON’T TRUST ANYONE,” Stéphanie Perez, senior reporter at France 2

“I START FROM THE PRINCIPLE THAT I’M BEING LISTENED TO AND MONITORED,” Christophe Boltanski, senior reporter at the Obs

“YOU NEED TO HAVE A STRONG MIND,” Martine Laroche-Joubert, senior reporter at France 2

“IN CAPTIVITY, YOU NEED TO BREAK THE ICE WITH YOUR JAILERS,” Martin Schibbye, Swedish freelance journalist, imprisoned for 438 days in Ethiopia

“WHEN YOU’RE THREATENED, IT’S IMPORTANT TO CREATE AN INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT NETWORK,” Dina Meza, investigative journalist and RSF correspondent in Honduras

“YOU MUST ALWAYS BE EXTREMELY ATTENTIVE TO YOUR ENVIRONMENT,” Emmanuel Sérot, journalist in charge of security issues at AFP

“SHOW HUMILITY AND RESPECT,” Alain Mingam, photojournalist and member of the RSF board of directors

“DON’T EVER GO ALONE,” Paul-Stéphane Manier, TV journalist, documentary filmmaker and member of the RSF board of directors

If you are working as an ’embedded’ journalist, i.e. travelling with a national army or armed groups, do not assume anything about your own safety. Do your utmost to clarify in advance the circumstances you will have to face.

A CFI project in partnership with France Médias Monde

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