As a boss, I prefer female assistants. They are more responsible, dedicated and focused. It is, however, very unfortunate that despite being as competent as their male colleagues, women journalists are not given the salaries their less efficient male counterparts get. This, in no way implies, that all males are incompetent and irresponsible – most are very good at their job … I just mean that even those media houses that claim to be equal opportunity employers pay less to female journalists,” says a female journo from Islamabad talking anonymously as she does not want to get into trouble with her employers.
Women in media face a lot of problems that their male colleagues are blissfully unaware of. Or, even if they realise these problems, they disregard them completely. This seems to be a sweeping statement, but this is what women journalists from Lahore and Islamabad professed in the three core group meetings of women journalists held recently in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad.
These meetings were organized by White Ribbon Campaign Pakistan (WRCP), which is a project of Women Empowerment Group (WEG), supported by Heinrich Boll Foundation, Germany. The agenda of WRCP is rather unique; they focus on educating men in order to eliminate violence and discrimination against women – at home and at work places. The idea behind these meetings was to develop a core group of women working in the media, to engage them in the process of dialogue to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women and to build their capacity. Omer Aftab, CEO WRCP, invited women journalists to voice their issues and suggest how they may be resolved.
Journalists from Lahore feel that there is a lot of harassment at work place. Women are not given important assignments, they have no job security and transport is not provided to them when they are asked to cover events. They disclosed that it is very difficult to get maternity leave. Even if they request leave for training to improve their professional skills, they are often not granted leave. A woman journalist from a leading newspaper said that she was told that if she went abroad for a six-week workshop, she would have to resign. She did not go. Another journalist from Lahore said that there should be a separate press club for women journalists.
Another problem that a woman journalist from Lahore brought up was that women do not get any support from their male colleagues. “They don’t help us at all,” was her vehement criticism. (Why should we want their help in the first place? We are equal, remember?).
A journalist from Islamabad, Farhat Arif, of ‘The Diplomatic Insight’, said that harassment at work place is a serious issue for most women in media. They receive threatening calls and work environment is often not comfortable for them. In addition, those women who come to Islamabad from adjoining areas are not offered transport facility. Farhat also said that senior women journalists do not support or guide their juniors. Another problem that needs to be addressed is the contract system! Due to that, there is no job security and journalists can be fired at the whims of the owners of the media moguls.
Karachi women journalists seem to be luckier than their colleagues in the other cities of the country. “We do not have any such problems. Our work place environment is very good, and the male colleagues extremely supportive and encouraging. In fact, they are the ones who should be complaining of harassment,” a female journalist joked.
Another woman journalist from Karachi said that although harassment is not an issue, there are a few problems that are faced by women journalists, not only in Karachi, but in all cities of Pakistan. “There should be creche at work place. Our salary structure is low and not everyone can afford maids. Maternity leave should be a paid leave. We also should get medical insurance. It is weird that men get medical allowance for their spouses, but women are not entitled to it,” she pointed out.
Some problems that were common to all women journalist were found to be: harassment, low wages, erratic work hours, lack of professional development opportunities, difficulty in obtaining maternity leave, lack of day care centres, paltry medical allowance and transport.
Summing up the problems faced by women in media and in general face, Omer Aftab said, “The objectives of WEG are: to initiate and announce core group of women journalists; to form and activate core group of women journalists, as part of White Ribbon Media Alumni, by holding mobilization and experience sharing sessions so women journalists can address issues at their professional work place and overall issues of Pakistani women; to share their best practices, cases studies, lessons learnt, issues of journalist community and professional issues at workplace.”
Omer Aftab promised that capacity building of women working in the media will also be initiated. This will enable women journalists to learn different skills like research, data analysis, reporting on violence against women issues, documentary making and news making on women issues.
Omer Aftab believes that more training is needed to achieve these objectives. Media should follow research based news reporting regarding women issues. He stressed that media should avoid character assassination of successful women. He also pointed out that media attention on women issues is fleeting in nature. Most of the issues highlighted are not followed up when new stories come up. He said that the practice of gender sensitive reporting should be implemented by all media personnel and awareness programmes should be designed to change mindsets while media cells should be established in NGOs to build support system.
We wish WRCP well in obtaining their objectives!