Towards gender equality in media: Promoting participation of women journalists

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KATHMANDU: The issue of underrepresentation of women in media has long been a public debate. With a plethora of students and young aspirants trying to make a career in the field of journalism, discussing opportunities and challenges from the perspective of young women who are already in journalism career brought about an enlightening webinar session on 29 September 2020. Organized by Media Action Nepal, this webinar saw two international female speakers and three young national journalists. Mr. Laxman Datt Pant and Ms. Priyanka Jha were the other participants who represented Media Action Nepal.011 1

The session commenced with Pant, Chairperson of Media Action Nepal, briefing about the urgent need of promoting gender equality in media. “We, as an organization, have been constantly working towards addressing this issue and the underlying problems focusing on media and journalist safety even in times of the global pandemic. With some recent incidents of discrimination against women in Nepali media houses, it is more important than ever to tackle this issue,” he said.03 1

Sharing her personal experience, Ms, Shristi Kafle, a freelance journalist, said, “There are fewer opportunities and more challenges as journalism in an odd-hour job.” She also condemned lack of trust that media houses or editors have in women when it comes to important or urgent news, noting that “female journalists are often limited to producing soft news stories and this brings around a discouraging working environment for women.” She shared concerns about workplace harassment, character assassination and discriminatory environment that women journalists have been facing and hoped that it will end soon.06 1

Mr. Aashish Mishra, a reporter of The Rising Nepal, said the acknowledgement of being a voice for neglected or worthy issues was his main motivation for choosing the profession of journalism. “With the advent of technology and big data, now is a great time to choose journalism as a profession.” He stated that the younger generation has acquired skills relevant to newer and more advanced technologies and that’s what the platform is demanding. “There are challenges in this field, no doubt. Especially for women as they face a lot of workplace harassment and discrimination. Yet, if we, as aware youth, enter this field of profession, we can bring about changes for the same issues.” he added.

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Fascinated with journalism since childhood, Ms. Bunu Tharu, correspondent at E-kantipur, said she faced a lack of trust from news sources and editorial team in the beginning of her career but, with dedication and hard work, she acquired good public relations and network. “As women, we still face a discouraging and confining workplace environment in media houses. This is because we are mainly given soft beats like entertainment, health, etc to cover,” she said. “Although having to prove ourselves and our capabilities time and again is an advantage to us, yet men in the profession are always trusted more and given better opportunities than females,” she added.

The session continued further with representation of the state of media in Syria by Ms. Lubna Albadawi, journalist at Damascus. She expressed that “women’s employment is no longer a debate between ‘with’ or ‘against. Women have now become the requirement for the success of any organization or society.” She mentioned the lack of women in the Syrian media as compared to that of men and condemned the way some communities, especially the conservatives, criticize women working in media and the way they present the narrative of journalism being an unsuitable profession for women. “No matter how confident and professional a woman is, a man’s opinion is always preferred over a woman’s insights,” she added.05

Enlightening the audience with her research work insights, Dr. Sadia Jamil, postdoctoral fellow at Khalifa University, UAE, talked about different challenges women journalists have been facing. She firstly spoke about people’s misconception of women being happier and more successful in the west and said “we have studies coming up from the global west and the east that show similar issues of ‘gender role perspective’ and challenges that women face in their workplace as journalists.” She also spoke of the significance of appropriate representation of female journalists in recruitment, pay scales, leadership opportunities, etc. Highlighting a number of psychological, physical, and emotional threats and challenges that women journalists face, she said, “If women are under or misrepresented, they become prone and vulnerable to safety threats. They are trolled online, they are attacked publicly and they are looked down upon.” Despite all these daily challenges, Dr. Jamil encouraged young and female journalists to enter this profession and never stop doing their best.000

Being an interactive session, the event received a few questions from viewers as it was live on Facebook too. Ms. Saraswati Sherpa asked Dr. Sadia how women can cope with gender stereotypes, biases, and discrimination in the work place. To this Dr. Sadia replied, “Operating in a system and trying to change it overnight is impossible but you as a woman can change yourself and work towards empowering yourself through professional legitimacy. If no one respects you as a woman journalist, you can respect yourself and better yourself constantly.”

Mr. Bimal Poudel raised a question whether social media provides a greater platform than traditional media for women representation and influence? Dr. Sadia answered this question saying, “Yes, social media is providing all of us a medium to influence people, journalists or not. One can always be a journalist on social media but beware of the counter reaction and trolls on social media as there are a lot of digital safety risks online.”

The event ended with a commitment from all participants to work towards ending discrimination against women journalists and also with a pledge to promote gender equality in media.