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Pakistani Women in Media: Challenges and Opportunities
Written by Zamiza Azmat   
Monday, 18 July 2011

Zamiza Azmat

In a special exclusive to WomenInNews.org, Zamiza Azmat, Editor and Programme Officer of All Pakistan Newspaper Society writes about the status of women in Pakistani media. She writes of the need for Pakistan's female media professionals to increase their training, cease regarding themselves exclusively as women and journalists and comments on the lack of women in the top positions of Pakistani media.

There are approximately 3, 200 people serving in the journalistic workforce, including 2,842 men and 362 women – a ratio of 5:1. With the emergence of electronic media, the new millennium has opened the door for greater freedom of expression for media, providing increased opportunities for women in the industry. Threats and other obstacles remain but, despite the struggling path, Pakistani women journalists are moving forward with determination.


Representation and Equality

Women have had an active presence in the media and social arena, reaching a heightened level of participation in recent years. Examining the main challenges confronted by Pakistani media women and the need to raise women’s presence in this area, Miss Fauzia Shaheen, Executive Director of Women Media Centre (WMC), sees journalist training institutions and centers for journalism education as crucial for providing greater opportunities for women. She began the WMC in 2005 to train women in media. According to Shaheen, women have lower opportunities for training than men do in this largely male dominated field and such gender equality issues should be brought to the attention of media officials and professionals in Pakistan.Like all other professions, journalism poses challenges for Pakistani women. In Pakistan, professional women have to face discriminatory attitudes as society regards them as less significant than men. According to Shaheen, one of the reasons behind the inequality of women in media is that women demand equality on the one hand and insist on a special status on the other.

Women cannot play their vital role in media while thinking of themselves as having dual identity. First they think themselves as women and then journalist. With this mindset, women cannot survive in any field of work. In Pakistan’s mushrooming electronic media, barriers for women are being broken but sexual harassment and unfair pay have become a matter of a grave concern. Secretary General of Pakistan Association of Television Journalist (ATJ) Mr. Faysal Azizi Khan has said that the ATJ has only 50 females among its 700 members around the country. Obscuring this statistic, women are highly visible in the Pakistani media as anchors and talk show hosts on dozens of private radio and television channels.

Compounding the lack of female representation in the media, women are paid less than their male colleagues for equal work and have to fight harder for political or other high profile assignments. Veteran reporter Ms Mariana Baabar of the The News daily says “these challenges are quite different from the ones we dealt with when we entered the profession in the 1980’s. Now young women are amazingly confident and bold in taking on these issues. We had to fight one way up also, but most of our male colleagues actively supported and helped us.

“We never even considered that we might be getting paid less than men for the same work,” she added, “nor did we face any kind of sexual harassment. But may be the younger generation is more conscious of their rights than we were.”

The Pakistan Alliance Against Sexual Harassment (Aasha), in collaboration with the international Labor Organization (ILO) and Pakistan‘s Ministry of Women Development, has developed a code of conduct for the workplace and procedure to deal with harassment and discrimination.

“Let me tell you, the challenges that women face here are not that far off from media anywhere in the world,” says Saima Mohsin, a senior anchor at the Dawn News Channel who came to Pakistan from London. “It has taken years for women in the west to achieve what women in Pakistan have managed in a short time. Women are making a mark in the media industry here that has catapulted them in to visibility everywhere. But are women take seriously? Not without a fight.”

Slow Rise to the TopPakistan Media
Very few women journalists have made it to the top. In the history of Pakistan, no woman has ever been editor of a national newspaper. Dr. Maliha Lodhi was the only woman to head English language dailies (The Muslim and The News International). This distinction is shared by Dr. Shirin Mazari, who now heads The Nation; and Kamala Hyat, Beena Sarwar, and Ayesha Haroon, who have headed different editions of national dailies. Currently, two political monthlies, The Herald and Newsline, also have women editors and predominantly female teams.

There is a certain mindset in our society regarding women who work in media organizations. Many families have the perception that women are not respected in media and, as a result, they do not allow their female family members to join the profession. These perceptions need to be changed and this can only happen if more women enter the profession and work hard to reach top-level jobs, so that they are in a position to improve the profile of other women in media organizations.

Most of the time women journalists in Pakistan are not assigned any important news beats involving politics, the economy or even sports. This is a misconception, which has been engrained in the minds of our society and especially in the minds of men, through cultural norms and the media. Media pays a very important role in shaping our concepts about male and female roles. This needs to be improved, starting from the grassroots level in media organizations.

The Need for Training and Mentoring
A lot of girls in Pakistan are students of journalism and mass communication, but they hesitate to join the media field upon graduation. The fact that women are missing from top positions in Pakistani media has a very negative impact and keeps women out of media houses at any level. The world of media is male-dominated, discouraging women from joining and staying in media houses.

There is a definite need for professional training at various levels in media organizations in order for women to perform better in their jobs and gain professional status. It was found that a lot of women would feel much more confident if there were someone to mentor them and show them the ropes, at least at the beginning of their careers. Like all other fields of activity, journalism is also a field of challenges for Pakistani women. In media women have to face discriminatory attitude in society as they are less significant than men.

Time for Change
A vicious cycle has been created where a change to the portrayal of women in media is required to change opinions about women in Pakistan. To achieve this, women need better training and skills to compete with men in mainstream media.

Factors like family restrictions, male dominance, unfavourable workplace environment, lack of training facilities, discriminatory salary packages, lack of appreciation, lack of security services, transport facilities, lack of separate toilet facilities and inflexible working hours often result in women avoiding this profession and seeking more comfortable and rewarding work environments.

There is a real need in Pakistan to mobilize women and provide them with equal opportunities for intensive training, thus empowering them with professional skills so that they can stand on their own two feet in the mainstream media. Their strength lies in their keen focus on better training and professional commitment opportunities which are more accessible today than before. Most of them are already committed to their work, the other element in the making of success. Patience is required to build better future and time is the remedy for their security issues.

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