‘Women being denied top slots in media’
LAHORE: The first regional conference of South Asian Women in Media (SAWM) was held at a local hotel on Saturday and was attended by delegates from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Maldives.
Presenting the key-note address, Nandita Das, an actress, film-maker and activist, said the main dilemma anyone could face was that of defining one’s identity. Adding that she would like to be called a ‘citizen of the world’, Nandita reiterated the belief that women were more part of the solution rather than the problem as perceived by many. Citing the example of marriage, she said once a woman got married she was asked by all and sundry: “How will you balance work and family?” But, she wondered, that question was ever addressed to the men folk.
She said women were made to feel guilty whether they were at work or at home to the extent that they themselves thought they were neglecting one thing or the other the whole time. Yet she was of the view that such stereotypes needed to be shed and women should be accepted as part of the solution.
Bandana Rana from Nepal talked about the Beijing Platform, where the two main areas of concern were the participation of women in media and their positive portrayal through those means. Largely, women were represented in media in purely decorative roles and they themselves thought that only the opinion of men was important in decision-making or other such areas, she said. The positive, professional and successful side of a woman was rarely depicted, said Bandana. “I also see lack of gender sensitivity in the media…women journalists are hardly seen in senior positions or posts of authority in the media itself.”
According to her observations, the general newsroom culture continues to be male chauvinistic; women are still assigned ‘soft’ issues rather than hard news; there is lack of equal opportunities for women; lack of congenial atmosphere; sexual or other harassment at workplaces; women are also underrepresented and depicted as victims all the time, etc.
From amongst the positive trends in media, Bandana said the advent of women reporters had changed news and that they could make a difference in policy-making circles. While images that harmed needed to be reduced, those that healed should be given more priority, she said. The media needed transformation and others shall have to encourage it where it was right in this regard, she added.
Imtiaz Alam explained the linkages between SAWM and Safma. While patriarchy considered women as good for nothing entities, he said Safma tried to address this issue with the formation of SAWM.
He said south Asians lagged behind on women’s issues but women journalists could become catalysts of change all over the world. Considering women as propagators of peace, a process for women-to-women dialogue needed to be initiated, he said.
SAWM Pakistan president Rehana Hakim then gave the vote of thanks saying that even in the English print media women were not seen in decision-making positions. She had a query for politicians, though none turned up at the event; will politicians allow women to take the lead to make decisions in the country’s affairs?
In the second session, Shehar Bano Khan presented a paper assessing the potential in South Asia’s media world. Citing a report on media in Pakistan, she said only five per cent of journalists were women. In the Urdu and regional language press very few women workers were seen and women were also missing in decision-making positions, she added. The mere presence of more women broadcasters, anchors and actors rather than journalists did not mean that women had been given access to posts of authority, she said. Even in America, 40 per cent of the workforce in newspapers was female compared to 60 per cent male, yet women held only 34 per cent supervisory positions, Shehar Bano said.
Heads of all eight delegations also spoke on the occasion. They were; Rasheda Amin from Bangladesh, Irushaadha Abdul Sattar from Maldives, Nirmala Sharma from Nepal, and others from India, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.
Rehana Karim, presiding over the session, said SAWM‘s purpose was to bring women in mainstream in the media. She said the complaint units should be made more effective and that senior journalists should be helping the younger ones to help them thrive in their respective fields.
The Memorandum of Association (MOA) was read by Zebunnisa Burki, to be followed by some speeches by established journalists. –Sadaf Siddiqui