VUB and ULB award Chinese and Belarusian women journalists

VUB and ULB award Chinese and Belarusian women journalists

Difference Day on Sunday 2 May and Monday 3 May puts women journalists in the spotlight

Women journalists are often victims of a wide range of online violence*

* UNESCO research

Every year, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the VUB and ULB organise Difference Day.  This year it will be a two-day event, with the theme "Women Breaking the News". This year, as part of Difference Day, the two sister universities VUB and ULB are awarding an Honorary Doctorate to Belarusian investigative journalist and dissident Svetlana Aleksandrovna Alexievich and an Honorary Title for Freedom of Expression to imprisoned Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan who covered the Corona outbreak in Wuhan.

Women journalists are not uncommon. However, sometimes they face extraordinary dangers in the pursuit of their profession. Not just because they are journalists, but also because they are women. A survey by ICFJ and UNESCO shows that women journalists are victims of a wide range of online violence, including threats of sexual assault and physical violence, foul language, intimidating private messages, threats to damage their professional or personal reputations, digital security attacks, misrepresentation through manipulated images, and financial threats.  The precise figures will be presented on Difference Day.

We would like to invite you to follow Difference Day online on Sunday, May 2 at You can find the full programme in the attachment. You can also attend the presentation ceremony of the Honorary Doctorate and Honorary Title on Monday, May 3 via that link.

If you are interested in an interview with Rector Caroline Pauwels on the topic, please contact Sicco Wittermans (VUB press relations).


Honorary Doctorate for Svetlana Aleksandrovna Alexievich

VUB and ULB are awarding an Honorary Doctorate to Svetlana Aleksandrovna Alexievich on Difference Day. Svetlana Alexievich is a Belarusian investigative journalist, historian and writer whose work has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. She gives voice to the oppressed opposition in her country.

Honorary Title for Freedom of Expression for Zhang Zhan

Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan receives the Difference Day Honorary Title for Freedom of Expression from VUB and ULB. Zhang Zhan was the first to cover the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan. She was sentenced to four years in prison in a hasty trial from which independent observers were banned. Chinese authorities detained her in appalling conditions.

Citizenship Award for Waad al-Kateab

The P&V Foundation's 16th Citizenship Award will be presented on Difference Day to journalist and film director Waad al-Kateab. In her documentary “For Sama”, she shows the audience the dilemma of leaving your country at war to give yourself and your family a better future.


World Press Freedom Day

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly declared May 3 World Press Freedom Day, in order to raise awareness to the importance of press freedom and to remind governments of their duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.



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Sicco Wittermans
Sicco Wittermans Spokesperson Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Sicco Wittermans
Sicco Wittermans Spokesperson Vrije Universiteit Brussel
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