Editors call for gender policy to enhance women’s leadership in Nepali media

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KATHMANDU/July 10: The national level webinar on the presence of women in Nepali media and the issues of their safety and leadership concluded with calls to formulate gender policies that build capacities of and give opportunities to women journalists. The webinar, organized on Friday, July 9 by Media Action Nepal (MAN), called on media houses to create a gender-friendly environment in their newsrooms and give women a seat at the decision-making table based on their qualifications and skills.

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Female editors of various news outlets Krishna Poudel, Chairperson and Editor of News Agency Nepal; Kabita Adhikari, Editor-in-Chief of Chakrapath.com; Kalpana Acharya, Editor-in-Chief of Health TV Online; Upasana Ghimire, Editor of Nari magazine; Ramkala Khadka, former Editor of Annapurna Ankur and Laxmi Khatiwada, Associate Editor of Muna magazine along with Shikha Neupane, Correspondent at Nepalpress.com and Priyanka Jha, Vice-Chairperson of MAN, shared their insights and experiences of how women journalists are treated by their colleagues, superiors and news sources and the spaces they occupy in Nepal’s newsrooms.

Citing the various studies conducted by the International Federation of Journalists, Jha noted the weak presence of women at the decision-making level of media organizations in Nepal and South Asia and noted how that had led them to overlook women’s issues and perspectives. She also talked about the challenges women journalists face, especially with regard to their physical, psychological and professional safety.

“Women journalists have to deal with sexual harassment, often at the hands of their own colleagues and are made to feel inferior and unheard. This, coupled with the wage gap and lack of career advancement prospects, leads many to feel dissatisfied and traumatized,” Jha said.

A woman journalist needs to manage both her job and her home. Furthermore, things like marriage and pregnancy break the momentum of a woman’s career and put her behind her male colleagues. The men in newsrooms need to understand this and media owners and state agencies need to formulate and implement gender policies with these in mind.

Ramkala Khadka, who is also the vice president of the organization Working Women Journalists (WWJ), presented the findings of a research WWJ had conducted among 500 women journalists in 45 districts of the country to study the state of their professional safety during COVID-19. The study found that only 7% of the respondents held an editor-level position in their media and only 37% of the media houses had gender policies. The study also revealed that sexual harassment, discrimination and verbal violence were the main problems causing women to leave journalism.

Khatiwada, who works in the state-owned Gorkhapatra Corporation, stated how the government media had also failed to secure women’s rights in the workplace. After Shree Om Shrestha retired as the chief editor of Gorkhapatra in July of last year, Harikala Adhikari should have succeeded him by order of seniority. However, Khatiwada informed that she was sidelined in favor of a male colleague. She also revealed that many women journalists of Gorkhapatra had reached institutions like the Sancharika Samuha and the National Women Commission complaining of an unfavorable work environment. “When a state-owned media acts this way, what are young women seeking to enter journalism to feel about Nepal media’s sector?” she asked.

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As someone just starting out in journalism after graduating from a media studies program, Shikha Neupane observed a lot of differences between the classroom and the workplace. “The media ethics are different. Hard news seems to go to male reporters while soft news seems to come to us, the female reporters. There seems to be an unconscious bias,” she said. Nevertheless, she clarified that this was changing and that she had been given ample opportunities for growth and exploration in her organization.

Kalpana Acharya remarked that simply increasing the presence of women in media was not enough. “Their presence needs to be meaningful and at the leadership level,” she said.

The speakers at the webinar complained that female reporters were only assigned to soft beats like women and children. To this, Acharya told everyone that this should be taken as a matter of pride. “These are not soft beats but rather sensitive beats and women are being trusted to bring out the stories that men miss,” she said.

Acharya also added that the lines between soft and hard beats had been blurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Health was previously considered a soft beat but today, it is linked to everything from politics to diplomacy to governance. “Yesterday, these beats may have been assigned to women because they were considered secondary. But today, they have become very prominent and women are doing an excellent job at covering health issues and delivering the content media owners and editors want,” she said, sharing that 80% of health journalists in Nepal were women.

However, Acharya stressed that there was still much to be done for the professional safety of women. “A woman journalist needs to manage both her job and her home. Furthermore, things like marriage and pregnancy break the momentum of a woman’s career and put her behind her male colleagues. The men in newsrooms need to understand this and media owners and state agencies need to formulate and implement gender policies with these in mind,” she said, adding, “At the same time, women also need to build their capacities and stay updated on opportunities.”

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Poudel, Adhikari and Ghimire also expressed their views and opined that since women had limited opportunities for socialization and were often belittled by the news sources too.

The webinar, moderated by MAN Executive Committee Member Ganesh Prasad Ghimire, built upon the knowledge gained from the seven provincial interaction programs MAN organized from June 12 to June 27. The webinar was attended by more than 35 people on Zoom and was streamed live on MAN’s Facebook page.