—By Lubna Jerar Naqvi
The media is considered as the eyes and ears of society, highlighting its problems and putting pressure on the authorities to provide solutions to problems. The media is a vibrant force that works relentlessly to form bridges and improve society through its reporting.
However, it seems women–who make a large portion of society – are largely ignored by the media. Not only are women’s issues under reported by the media, women in the media industry are also underrepresented.
Over the decades the good news is that the number of women joining the media in different capacities have increased. The bad news is that there are not many women at higher positions where they can affect the decisions taken and policies made.
Pakistan faces the problem of a large percentage of its women workforce is not working in any sector. And the ones who are working are generally from rural areas as compared to urban areas.
Writing about this situation, author and economist Kazim Saeed has highlighted this issue in his book ‘Dou Pakistan’ (Two Pakistans). Saeed writes that Pakistan’s labour force at this point stands at about 65 million, out of which 5 million are men and 1.5 million are women. And out of 1.5 million women, nearly a million work in the rural areas on the fields.
As if thisis not bad enough, Saeed further writes that only 29% women of working age are earning in Pakistan, as compared to the world average of 46%.
This means that the missing work force – the women of working age – is contributing to the pressure on the economy and adding non-earning dependents on the income of the income earners.
But it would be interesting to see out of the 29% women of working age who are earning, how many are being paid equal pay.
On ground, if we look at different professions we often see that women are not paid equal to men doing the same work.
For example, women in the media work as hard as anyone but they seem to be trying to prove their worth on a daily basis – sometimes working harder and longer than anyone else.
Despite this, data reveal that a large number of women in the media are not paid equal to what the men are for doing the same amount of work. In 2018, the gender gap issue in the BBC was reported widely when women journalists took a stand against this disparity.
It did not help that this matter went in favour of the media organization and did not favour the women employees, as reported in 2020. “The BBC has been cleared of unlawful acts of pay discrimination against women, following an investigation by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).But it was warned it needed to make “improvements to increase transparency and rebuild trust with women at the organisation”.”
But the important thing was that the problem of not paying equal pay was raised and now women across the world are aware that they are being deprived of their right.
Inequality in pay is a common phenomenon all over the world in every sector. Pakistan and media are no different. Women are generally get less salaries than their male colleagues. And this situation will hardly change unless major changes are made in the administrative and policy-making structures of the media.
To understand and resolve problems faced by women employees, it is important to have more women in decision-making positions in the media industry all over the world.
The importance of women in the media, as well as in higher positions like the editor, was made by Maria Iqbal Tarana who is former chairperson of Commission on Status of Women AJK, founder Education campaign Aam Taleem and political social and human rights activist.
Agreeing that women journalists are vulnerable when a financial crisis occurs and maybe the first to be laid off. And also that they juggle home and office together, Maria said it makes a difference when women journalists are unable or unwilling to report.
Maria worked in the sector to help women from rural areas, highlighted the importance of women in the media. She said that most of the cases her department worked on were mostly the ones reported in the media.
When the lockdown was imposed last year and everything shut down, the reported cases also fell.
“On March 15, 2020 we went into lockdowneverything shut down. I realized from the start that the information I got of many cases of violence against women every day decreased as they were being reported less as compared to before.” Maria said.
She was concerned about this as she was sure that the cases had not stopped happening, they were just not being reported.
Unfortunately, she was right.When things began to ease and began to opensuddenly the number of casesbeing reported of abuse and violence against women rose again.
“The pandemic not only affected the women journalists but also the stories they reported or which were reported because of them.” She said.
Maria emphasised the importance of women journalists in the media as they bring the story first-hand from different areas – even from the remotest areas. If these stories don’t get reported – or if the women journalists stop working – then these stories will never make it to the light of day. They will get lost or will not be received on time which could mean dire consequences for someone who needs immediate help.
Therefore, the importance on someone who can ensure that these stories are made part of the rundown and published often needs to be understood.
Pakistan has seen women journalists in senior positionsbut the number of women in key policy-making positions has not been significant to bring change in the media. Proper steps have not been taken to improve the situation for women journalists and media workers.
Iram Noor-Muzaffar, Editor You Magazine, The News International has been a journalist for many years. She was fortunate work with a woman boss whom she still considers to be her mentor. Now when she is in the boss seat, she is trying to make a change for her team.
Speaking about the positives of having a woman boss, Iram said, “My former boss was an amazing woman and my mentor. We had friendly relations and till today we are friends. We never had this typical boss-assistant relationship. In our field you cannot expect to follow someone’s orders blindly like in the army. And she gave me an opportunity to work freely.”
Iram is not your typical boss. Having gone through the grind herself, she understands the problems and tries to provide issue-based solutions for her team.
“Being a boss is a tough job. You have to take decisions quickly and you need to be in control. You have to work as a team. I always try to teach my assistants in the best possible manner.”
She added, “Yes, you feel empowered but at the same time since you don’t get support from the management.And this is why we need more women as editors and in decision-making positions.” She added.
However, the issue of less women holding important, decision-making positions in the media is not restricted to Pakistan but is faced across the region and the world.
Commenting on the small number of women in decision-making positions, Bangladeshi journalist Ruhina Ferdoussaid this with reference to her own country.
“In Bangladesh women’s participation in journalism has increased, but the number of women in decision-making positions is comparatively low. The Bangladesh Centre for Development Journalism and communication report shows only 17 women journalists of the country are receiving more than Tk100,000 each a month. This media industry is largely male-dominated.”
Ruhina Ferdous who is a sub-editor in the Editorial Department, Daily Bonik Barta, Bangladesh thinks women in the media face more issues as it is still a male-dominated profession in many countries, especially Bangladesh. “Journalism is challenging for women because it is basically considered a male profession. So, women have to face many unwanted obstacles in society, family, and the workplace.”
Commenting on the gender disparity in the media in Bangladesh, she said, “Despite women’s qualifications, many women journalists are discriminated against when it comes to recruitment and promotions.”
Speaking with reference to the pandemic, she said thingshave become worse for women. “Declining ad revenues have led to massive job cuts for journalists. Many women journalists lost their jobs, due to the implementation of the journalist retrenchment policy to fight the financial impact of Covid-19. Women journalists relieved from jobs or asked to stay on leave without pay is high.”
The importance of women journalists holding high positions does make a good impact on the profession as a whole.
Indonesian journalist Siti Parhani who works for Magdalene.cosaid, “Having women bosses well-educated about gender is a privilege that only few women journalists have.”
She said, “I’m lucky to be able to work in the feminist media company that has an inclusive workplace. My bosses are basically well-educated about gender and the obstacles women face in the media industry. I have the privilege to write on topics related to human and women rights, without thinking about countless ‘clickbait’ articles or the irrational number of content targeted like some who work in the mainstream media.”
Siti also said,“Our editor always encourages us to learn something new, improve our skills, and prioritize our safety. We have flexible work-time. As you may know, the advantages like location and schedule flexibility can help those with kids. Since the pandemic began, we have been working remotely, because my bosses are concerned about our health.”
“We always have an open meeting, where we can share anything. And again, I’m so lucky to not face problems like sexism or mansplaining like many women journalist might do.” She added.
India seems to be an exception when it comes to women journalists in important positions in media organizations.
As Pratyush Ranjan – Senior Editor at Jagran New Media & Vishvas News (IFCN certified Fact Checking Unit), India – said,“Gone are those days when female bosses in the Indian workforce, particularly media sector, were in minority and were seeking recognition. Today, women executives are leading from the front and have taken the reigns of companies and departments in their hands in India.”
Speaking on the importance of women in the newsroom in general, Ranjan said, “The newsrooms in Indian media need more women workforce for several reasons. India Inc is surely witnessing a positive change in attitude towards women leaders and this is evident from the fact that the media industry is seeing a steady increase in the number of female employees and women managers.”
However, despite this, there is still a lot to be done in India as Ranjan added, “I agree that there is scope of them getting a little more recognition and making it to the top of the hierarchy.”
Change is coming in the media but the pace is quite slow. In 2015, Britain saw its first woman editor when The Economist breaking its 171-year history of all-men editors. The Guardianfollowed shortly after this and appointed its first woman editor-in-chief in its 194-year history.
This was surely a momentous time in the history of global media but this did not begin the much-needed trend across the industry.
At present the situation is quite depressing. According to the findings of Reuters Institute’s factsheet(2021) – based on the study of ‘240 major online and offline news outlets from four continents’ – the number of women in higher positions is still low.
The factsheet reveals that “Only 22% of the 180 top editors across the 240 brands covered are women, despite the fact that, on average, 40% of journalists in the 12 markets are women…….23% of top editors are women, the same percentage as last year.”
This slow increase in the number of women as top editors in an industry where the number of women employees is increasing is quite alarming. This not only affects the working conditions, rights, salaries and promotions of women employees but it also directly affects how women are projected in the media. The number of stories that are done, which stories are reported and how they are treated and placed.
However, the momentum of this may increase as the younger women journalists are more aggressive to achieve their goals. They have a well beaten path for them to continue their journey and they will add to struggle that their predecessors started, and maybe even provide good solutions.
On top of that these journalists are better equipped than their predecessors because of the powerful digital media. It will help them move ahead faster and gain more ground in shorter time.
Using the words of Pratyush Ranjan “More Power to Women Workforce Everywhere!”