In 21st century, information has become an essential requirement of the society; a journalist via media is a link between society and information. With the surge in electronic and social media, journalism has attained even more significance than before. While journalism as a field has come to the forefront, the female representation in this field has also increased. Particularly, in electronic media, more and more female journalists can be seen doing exceptionally well. With females comprising 48.76% of population of Pakistan, female journalists are an important part of the ‘4th pillar of state’. Female journalists are the echoes of voices of nearly half of the population of Pakistan. But being a female journalist is like walking on eggshells every day.
Journalism, however, is not a walk in the park. It is safe to say that journalism is not a profession but a way of life. Journalism is synonymous to being exposed to constant threats and being a female makes one even more vulnerable because of the gender-based discrimination. To put the risk into perspective, a survey conducted by International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in 2017 concluded “Having participation of 400 female journalists from 50 countries, revealed that 1 in 2 female journalists suffered gender-based discrimination, 63% suffered verbal abuse, 37% were sexually harassed and 21% were economically abused, whereas 45% of the perpetrators were outsiders including politicians and sources, 38% were supervisors or bosses. Two-thirds out of these women did not make a formal complaint. Out of those that did lodge formal complaints, 84.8% did not believe adequate measures were taken and only 12.3% were satisfied.” Such are the statistics across the globe; the situation in Pakistan is certainly no different, if not worse.
Gender-based violence and work place harassment hamper female journalists from excelling besides psychologically torturing and scarring them for life. An insecure environment and a constant fear of being targeted on the basis of gender also prevent female journalists from choosing more challenging fields. There are already limited choices, which shrink further for female journalists when such threats are imminent; this is one of the reasons why there are barely any crime reporters in Pakistani media. According to a research by the Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ) 69% of female journalists reported facing harassment and 24.1% said, they did not face harassment. To add to the physical, psychological, verbal and economical gender-based abuse, a new form of abuse has been on the rise in the recent years. With more exposure to unaccountable and open online world, female journalists are more prone to abuse not just at work but also at home. According to a survey by IFJ two-thirds of female journalists suffered gender-based online attacks.
The gender pay gap is also a clear discrimination against female journalists. A female journalist in an organization is generally paid less in comparison to their male colleagues. This automatically leads to demotivation and mental stress. Women who are single mothers and breadwinners of their houses are negatively impacted by this prejudice. Not only this, the professional growth of women is also stunted because of gender-based discrimination. Male journalists are preferred over equally or more competent female journalists for editorial and management positions. The excuse generally provided for this behavior is the commitment women have towards their home. There are, currently, hardly any female directors in the mainstream electronic media of Pakistan and few female editors in national newspapers. Only recently, some women have been able to secure the position of bureau chief. In magazines and journals, however, there is a considerable female editorial representation.
Another major issue that nearly every female journalist has gone through at some point in her career is objectification. Each female journalist has to continuously fight for her right of being taken as a serious intellectual individual who has her own opinion and is capable of analyzing the news environment. This continuous need of proving one’s intellect besides the professional capabilities becomes a burden with the passage of time, especially, when compared with male journalists. A presumption regarding women being lesser in intellect is deeply seeded in a society like ours; this stigma is, therefore, carried in the field of journalism as well.
Many a times, female journalists face hurdles while covering events only because of their gender. Verbal abuse is quite a common problem but sometimes it escalates to physical violence. In 2014, bottles were thrown at a female journalist covering a protest of a political party in Lahore. Recently, a female journalist covering a long march was asked by the participants of the long march to stop the coverage and leave the area as, according to them, the presence of a female was “ruining the environment of the long march.”
Female journalists have to continuously juggle between their professional and personal life, which in itself is a daunting task indeed. A woman is a homemaker besides being a professional and during the course of her life, there are certain important events that need to be taken into account — motherhood is one such phase. Unfortunately, many female journalists face trouble when it comes to maternity leaves. Many times the paid maternity leaves are barely 2 to 3 weeks after which if a female journalist does not return to work, she risks losing her job. After giving birth to a child, a woman is in the most sensitive phase of her life and most of our media houses have no empathy for such women. Furthermore, there are no daycare facilities in most media houses and bringing a child to work is either not allowed or is frowned upon. In these circumstances many female journalists have to give up their careers or have to bear all the unnecessary hardships created by an unfavorable environment. Beside all these issues, the recent media crisis has only added fuel to the fire.
Excelling in the career for females is comparatively difficult. The solutions will come from within the society as most of the problems faced by female journalist are prevalent in our society in general, and it is the correction of society that will lead to correction of attitudes towards female journalists in particular. It is time we start teaching our children to respect every human being irrespective of their gender, race, religion or class. Once our children learn this important lesson, half the problems of female journalists will automatically be solved. The solution of the remaining problems will need focus and concerted efforts from government, media houses and journalists. HH
The writer is a broadcast journalist.
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