“What's the point of using ‘lady reporter’ to refer to women? No one calls men ‘male reporter’,” asked Tanzeela Mazhar, core member of The Coalition of Women in Journalism (CFWIJ) Pakistan Chapter.
The question was posed during a roundtable event held at the Human Rights Commission Pakistan (HRCP) office in Islamabad earlier this week. The session organised by CFWIJ, an international support organisation for women journalists, focused on equal opportunities for women journalists and the challenges and opportunities therein.
The conversation was aligned with the global #HearMeToo campaign and could not have come at a better time.
Despite there being some notable women in the industry, journalism in Pakistan is not a level playing field. Women make up around five percent of the Pakistani media industry, according to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists. When it comes to beats and stories, women journalists at times play second fiddle to their male counterparts.
The CFWIJ organised the roundtable to uncover new avenues of progress for women journalists. Around the world, the support network works with leading women journalists to help those in mid careers overcome their challenges and find opportunities of growth.
Some interesting perspectives arose on why men were assigned the more “serious” beats. Voice of America (VOA) Bureau Chief for Afghanistan and Pakistan and CFWIJ core member Ayesha Tanzeem explained that there were two ways to look at the situation. “You have the perspective of the journalist that wants to cover a topic, and then you have the perspective of the editor,” she said.
“While discrimination certainly does exist, at times editors will pick men for certain stories because they are able to handle them better. Women need to level up their skills and exposure so they can deliver the same results,” she added.
The freedom that men enjoy gives them an advantage in the field. Often, men are already used to navigating public spaces when they enter the field. For many women, the reality is a sheltered upbringing.
“Women can most certainly cover all kinds of beats – and they do. But they need to bring their ‘street smarts’ to the same level as men,” Ayesha said.
Tanzeela Mazhar emphasised that a shift in how women journalist were perceived was the need of the hour. “There are some issues that are very sensitive and bold and because they are centred around women, men cannot do them justice so women cover them. Now because they are assigned to women they have been labelled easy or weak, which I feel is unfair,” she said.
National Press Club (NPC) Vice President and CFWIJ member Maira Imran spoke about the power dynamics of the stories and beats. It is about time we stopped putting a patriarchal lens on stories. “I think some of the issues that women cover are powerful and very impactful. We need to recognise these stories for their strengths,” she said.
“Men think that beats such as politics or crime give them a lot of power and they don’t want to vacate space for women when it comes to these beats. In reality, these themes are no more important than much of what women are covering,” she added. We need to genuinely revisit what constitutes a “hard” and “soft” beat.
Other members present also highlighted the multiple roles that men in the organisation are expected to play.
Maira explained that in Pakistan a disparity exists because of the role that male reporters are expected to play in an organisation. “They aren’t just supposed to bring in stories, they are used for multiple purposes. From getting things done to finding connections that benefit media owners - it’s not often just about their stories,” she said.