Media stakeholders and leaders at press clubs, unions, and prominent news outlets across Pakistan have pledged to address barriers to women’s leadership, inclusivity, and equal representation through a series of sign-ons. The messages of support come following groundbreaking Women’s Media Forum Pakistan (WMFP) campaigning and mapping work in support of gender equality in Pakistan’s media.
The “Pakistan’s Media Needs Women” campaign, launched on December 13, is a rolling advocacy, research and awareness initiative designed to address pervasive gender inequality and labour rights violations within Pakistan’s media industry. The campaign has sparked important conversations for journalists, media workers, news outlet leaders, as well as trade union and press club representatives gathering commitments to amplify women’s voices, foster inclusivity, and provide avenues for women’s leadership in media houses, journalists’ organisations, and other media bodies. In recent elections at the Lahore and Karachi Press Clubs, only two women were elected, with only seven women in a combined leadership team of 40.
Through a series of social media polls, the WMFP identified a strong desire for involvement in journalists’ bodies among women. Over 70% of respondents affirmed the need for gendered quotas in press clubs and unions, with over 85% of women stating that they would feel safe joining a media trade union. However, around half of all respondents were currently waiting to join a press club, limiting women’s engagement within membership and leadership capacities. Over 30 per cent of respondents were not on an official contract, however.
Through its outreach efforts, the WMFP and the IFJ achieved sign-ons from senior journalists alongside press club and media union representatives in Islamabad, Lahore, Quetta, Peshawar, and Karachi. Over 26 leading media stakeholders committed to addressing barriers to women’s engagement, implementing structures to uplift and represent women’s voices, and ensuring the sustainability of these measures through leadership, capacity building, and equality training.
The WMFP said: “Our campaign has revealed clear support for gender equality in Pakistan’s media sector. Now, we must take sustainable action to address barriers for women in our organisations and ensure that our industry can reach its potential.”
The campaign was launched from extensive national mapping work across Pakistan’s four provinces and Islamabad. The research found women were significantly underrepresented, with women only representing between 5 to 30 per cent of an estimated 15,000 journalists and media workers, with this number diminishing outside the metropolitan media hubs of Karachi and Islamabad. Women are highly underrepresented in leadership positions, with a majority of organisations not recording any women in leadership positions across both outlets and civil society.
Institutionally, most workplaces did not have gender-specific policies, with implementation identified as a significant issue even for those with policies. Avenues to address labour rights are scarce, with media unions often not having the tools to address issues at work, especially those faced by women journalists. A norm of precarious work can exclude women from unions and press clubs, which can only represent full-time workers. Fear of termination can dissuade those unaware of their rights from advocating for themselves professionally.
The WMFP said: “Barriers to gender equality exist as long as we allow them to, and it is up to all of us to fight against exploitation, precarious work and gender inequality. This campaign has again reaffirmed the need for news outlets, unions and press clubs to take action in support of gender equality, and will serve as important focal point in uplifting women’s voices and building a stronger industry for all.”