Senior women journalists share their triumphs and travails
KARACHI: To mark International Women’s Day, Uks Research Centre celebrated women who made a space for themselves in the media industry and emerged as critical cogs of their organisations to pave way for other women to enter the profession. The seminar on ‘Women in the Media: Pages from the Past’ at a local hotel here on Saturday uncovered the journeys made by the she heroes or ‘sheroes’.
It was thanks to these sheroes that women today find so much freedoms and so much space to work in the media industry. Sheen Farrukh, who stepped into the field of journalism as a freelancer contributing articles for the eveninger Star and Akhbar-i-Khawateen for Rs20 each, and who later joined Akhbar-i-Khawateen and Mashriq as its city editor, joked that she herself now felt like a yellowed newsprint. “There are some very good female reporters in English newspapers though the Urdu print media has been unable to achieve the same. And in the electronic media they seem to be used more,” she observed.
Zohra Yusuf, who is now a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said that she also started her career from the eveninger Star said that she was pulled towards journalism by the late Najma Sadeque and Sherry Rehman. “At the time Star used to publish film posters, which went against my nature but this was also the time of women movements and I found writers like Hilda Saeed and Kausar who were passionate for the cause of women and they found Star as their platform while I was accused of turning it into a feminist paper,” she said.
Humaira Athar said that she joined Ailaan as a young student in 1976 for a salary of Rs250. Later, she worked for other publications including Anjam, Akhbar-i-Khawateen and Express, too.
She narrated the incident when she had gone to India to stay with her uncle but thought it to be a good opportunity to interview prime minister Indira Gandhi there. “She had recently come back to power and was thus cautious about giving careless statements. I was also permitted to interview her if I agreed to refrain from asking her political questions. I agreed otherwise I would not have been allowed to interview her at all. Then after talking about everything under the sun, I said to her that she came from a political family and either she or myself would be taken as a duffer if the interview had nothing about politics. She then allowed me two questions, one on Kashmir and the other on the Russians in Afghanistan,” she said.
“Then when the interview was published newspapers such as Dawn, Jang and Jasarat all wrote editorials based on the answers to those two questions,” she said.
Shahida Kazi said that she joined Dawn as a reporter soon after completing her master’s in journalism though later she was also associated with PTV. “The 1960s was a time when women used to think of becoming doctors or teachers. But my aptitude was towards English literature, philosophy and the arts. Then when Karachi University opened its journalism department I was the first and only girl for a time being to have entered it,” she said. But, she added, studying with boys, opting to travel by public transport helped her gain confidence and become more assertive, which in turn helped her in her reporting.
Raana Shaikh, former managing director of PTV and who was also associated with Geo and ARY, said that when she joined PTV in the late 1960s they were trained to even clean the sets and the floor, handle lighting, etc. “I remember how we used to cover Bhutto at political rallies and were totally charmed by his intelligence and charisma. Then on election day as the results were coming in and PPP was winning, I started cheering without realising that I was on live TV. Of course I was made to sit on the side until I learnt to control myself,” she said.
Zubeida Mustafa, who said that she started and ended her journalism career at Dawn for which she still writes a regular column, said that she can describe her career with the paper with one word — satisfactory. She said that she joined the paper as an assistant editor and leader writer but never desired editorship. “My aptitude, too, was always more towards writing and I was lucky that my editor gave me plenty of freedom,” she said.
Mahnaz Rahman, who has also freelanced as well as worked with several newspapers such as Musawat, Aman, etc, said that there was a time that she also had to flee to China with her journalist husband who took exile for some eight years due to his journalism. “I also got the Tamgha-i-Dosti for my work in China but when I returned to Pakistan things had changed here. There was no peace in sight and thus I joined the development sector since I was also very passionate about bringing a revolution,” she said.
Finally, Maheen Rashdi paid a touching personal tribute to her late aunt Razia Bhatti. She said it is almost 24 years since she lost her aunt, whom she lovingly called Razia Phuppi, the former editor of the monthly Herald and founder of Newsline. “Her political stands often caused arguments between my father and her other brothers at the dining table. Her opinions were not just bold but they were also way ahead of her time causing even Ziaul Haq to call her and Herald out.
“Two decades later, as editor of Newsline, she took on the governor of Sindh and our family remained terrified once again. But Razia Phuppo said that the truth must come out. She never printed retractions and went about her work with a ‘Que sera sera’ [Whatever will be will be]’ attitude,” she said while sharing her own childhood memories of accompanying her to her office as a little girl, something that resulted in her becoming a journalist herself.