Was in Lahore this weekend for a very vibrant conference involving
women in media, mostly young women journalists. Here's the link to my
report for IPS about the issues they identified -
MEDIA-PAKISTAN: Sexual Harassment - Routine for Women Journos
By Beena Sarwar
LAHORE, Oct 14 (IPS) - Pakistan's mushrooming electronic media has
transformed the political landscape in this South Asian nation where
illiteracy bars some 60 percent of the people from reading
newspapers. It has also thrown up new challenges for young people
entering media, particularly women.
Most members of the Pakistan Association of Television Journalists
(PATJ) are under 35 years old, according to Faysal Aziz Khan, 33, the
Karachi-based secretary general of the association and reporter for
PATJ only has some 50 females among its 700 or so members around the
country, but nearly half of them are concentrated in the business
capital of Karachi. Women are highly visible in the Pakistani media
as anchors and talk show hosts on dozens of private radio and
television channels in various regional languages, besides English
Most identify sexual harassment as their biggest concern, according
to Zebunnisa Burki, who has been coordinating South Asian Women in
Media (SAWM) since the organisation was launched in April this year.
National conferences have recently been held in Pakistan, Afghanistan
"Practically every journalist who is here has a tale to tell," she
told IPS at the SAWM- Pakistan conference in Lahore, on Oct. 10-
11. "I think our complaints cell will be the most active part of our
"Oh dear," responded Khan when IPS asked him to comment. He said he
would put it on the agenda of the next PATJ council meeting. There
are two women on the 17-member council, including one who was at the
The second biggest issue that the 50 or so delegates identified at
the conference was gender discrimination: they said that women are
paid less than their male colleagues for equal work and have to fight
harder for the political or other high profile assignments.
"These challenges are quite different from the ones we dealt with
when we entered the profession in the 1980s," veteran reporter
Mariana Baabar of the daily The News told IPS. "These young women are
amazingly confident and bold in taking on these issues. We had to
fight our 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 did face any kind of
sexual harassment. But maybe the younger generation is more conscious
of their rights than we were."
The relatively newer issue of sexual harassment is linked with the
age-old problem of gender discrimination, commented Rubina Jamil who
heads the 22-year old Punjab-based Working Women's Organisation
WWO is among the civil society organisations which got together a few
years ago to form Aasha, the Alliance Against Sexual Harassment
(www.aasha.org.pk) in collaboration with the International Labor
Organisation (ILO) and Pakistan's Ministry of Women Development.
"I am so glad they are doing this," a radio journalist in her early
twenties told IPS. "I've been working since I was 17, and I am sick
of producers offering to help me if I go out with them. I want my
work to be taken on merit."
Aasha developed a code of conduct for the workplace and a procedure
to deal with harassment and discrimination. Geo TV, the largest
private television network in Pakistan is among the few media
organisations Aasha lists as a `progressive employer'.
"It's not necessary for every case to be a federal issue," commented
a television producer who worked with Geo when Aasha started. "Often
the tension arises because of the widespread gender segregation in
our society -- many of these youngsters don't know how to interact
with each other. This leads to misunderstandings that the code helps
to clear up."
Another reason for growing sexual harassment may be that, with
education, more people are crossing class barriers.
"Women coming into journalism earlier were relatively well-connected
and self-confident. Many now come from lower-middle class backgrounds
and have less confidence. Men find it easier to take advantage of or
intimidate them," observed a senior journalist. "Women must be
trained to refuse unwanted advances clearly rather than trying to be
nice about it and making excuses that can be taken at face value."
Aasha recommends that the person feeling harassed should keep notes
about the time, date, place, and nature of the harassment.
"This helps establish a pattern and also provides the management with
something to work with," said the former Geo producer. "When we had a
case of unwanted SMS messages and e-mails going to one young woman,
she followed these steps. We were able to resolve the matter
internally without embarrassing the people involved or making it
"Let me tell you, the challenges that women face here are not that
far off from media anywhere in the world," said Saima Mohsin, a
senior anchor at the English language Dawn News channel who came to
Pakistan a year and a half ago from London, where she has worked with
Sky TV, ITV and BBC. "Women are not taken seriously anywhere without
"It has taken years for women in the West to achieve what women in
Pakistan have managed in a short time," she added. "Women are making
a mark in the media industry here that has catapulted them into
visibility everywhere. But few women are invited as experts in high
profile news shows."
But issues of representation, harassment and discrimination pale into
irrelevance for women journalists working in conflict areas, like
Farzana Ali of Aaj TV in Peshawar in the North West Frontier Province
(NWFP) bordering Afghanistan.
"We have picked up the flesh of our own people with our own hands
after a bomb blast," Ali, the petite mother of an eight-year old boy,
told conference participants in a chilling reminder of the
unprecedented challenges that journalists -- male and female -- face
in an era of unmitigated violence.