Experts stress on increasing women leadership in Nepal’s newsrooms

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KATHMANDU/June 18: Media and gender experts have stressed the need to increase women participation at the decision-making level in media when speaking at the provincial level webinar on ‘Gender mainstreaming in media and the issue of professional safety of women journalists’ organized by Media Action Nepal (MAN) on June 16.

The webinar, participated by Sharada Basyal Belbase, Chief of the Social Development Division, Ministry of Social Development of Lumbini Province; Chuma Acharya, Vice President of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) in Lumbini; Gyanu Poudyal, Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI) expert; Dr. Bal Krishna Chapagain, Advocate and Senior Journalist; Laxman Datt Pant, MAN Chairperson and Priyanka Jha, MAN Vice-Chairperson, discussed issues of women-friendly newsrooms, representation of women and gender issues in media content and the attitude of media managers towards women journalists.

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The webinar had a lot of 59 participants on Zoom, more than half of whom were women, and was streamed live on MAN’s Facebook page. The entire discussion was moderated by Sanju Paudel, Lumbini Province Coordinator of MAN.

GESI Expert Poudyal stressed the need to formulate gender policies, both at the umbrella level by government bodies and associations like the FNJ and at the individual level by media organizations. “Policies guide everything, from recruitment, promotions and pay scale to what kind of women are given in newsrooms and their issues in media content,” she said, also calling for news outlets to formulate plans to ensure the safety of their female reporters during disasters. “Crises like the current COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affect women more. So, we need to have mechanisms in place,” she added.

“Policies guide everything, from recruitment, promotions and pay scale to what kind of women are given in newsrooms and their issues in media content,” she said, also calling for news outlets to formulate plans to ensure the safety of their female reporters during disasters. “Crises like the current COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affect women more. So, we need to have mechanisms in place,” she added.

Dr. Chapagain expressed that women’s participation helped the media raise minute social issues which often go overlooked by male journalists. He also claimed that women were more sincere, hardworking and responsible than their male colleagues. “Yet, they do not seem to get the posts and responsibilities they deserve because media owners and editors hesitate to give women big responsibilities, they doubt their skills and qualifications,” he added.

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Acharya highlighted the lack of financial and job security for women reporters which are pushing them out of journalism. “FNJ is now focusing on creating a favorable environment for women to enter and stay in the media field, even after marriage,” she said.

MAN Chairperson Pant shared the findings of research he had previously conducted which showed that Nepal’s media organizations invested absolutely nothing to make their workplaces women and gender-friendly. Based on his research, he also said that the media’s lens was pointed towards exposing the victims, portraying them as characters requiring sympathy and creating “viral” content off of their pain rather than on investigating the alleged perpetrators and advocating for justice. He also stated that there was institutional gender discrimination in media and it could only be reformed by engaging with men and making them aware of the issues. “But alas, we do not get participation from editors and media owners in trainings and interactions related to institutional reforms because they are afraid of the type of questions they might have to face,” he said.

Social Development Division Chief Belbase talked about some of the prejudices that women faced in the workplace. “There are preconceived notions that women can’t investigate, they can’t devote time to their job and they are weak which prevents them from moving forward in their career,” she said, adding, “Women’s voices are also not taken seriously and I have seen them belittled by their superiors and news sources.”

Social Development Division Chief Belbase talked about some of the prejudices that women faced in the workplace. “There are preconceived notions that women can’t investigate, they can’t devote time to their job and they are weak which prevents them from moving forward in their career,” she said, adding, “Women’s voices are also not taken seriously and I have seen them belittled by their superiors and news sources.”

Belbase also questioned why the participation of women and individuals who identify as LGBTQI+ were only to quotas and why their issues were not given prominent spaces in the media. “Women and gender minorities are not adequately represented in newsrooms and as a result, their issues do not get covered.”

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She also highlighted the issue of unequal pay which is illegal according to the Labor Act, 2017. Yet, women have to accept less pay than their male colleagues for the same work because if they don’t, they won’t get hired at all. She also urged everyone to raise issues of gender, ask questions and hold discussions. “Only then can gender mainstreaming in media be achieved.”

Journalists Rekha Bhusal, Nira Gautam, Malati Neupane, and Kalpana Tiwari also spoke on the occasion who highlighted the need to include women at the decision-making level to create gender-friendly and gender-inclusive newsrooms. Women are more than half the national population but the number of journalists does not reflect this. They also called it shameful that media owners and male editors had still not been able to give space to women and gender minorities a seat at the top table.

Women are more than half the national population but the number of journalists does not reflect this. They also called it shameful that media owners and male editors had still not been able to give space to women and gender minorities a seat at the top table.

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This webinar is part of a series of virtual interaction programs that Media Action Nepal is holding in each province, focusing on the various aspects of Nepali media and how they have been impacted by COVID-19. The next Bagmati province-level webinar will be held on Monday, June 21.