Me and You Too

When it comes to harassment, possibly the worst profession in Pakistan is that of the woman reporter

Kamal Siddiqi October 23, 2017
The writer, a former editor of The Express Tribune, is director of the Centre for Excellence in Journalism at IBA, Karachi. He tweets @tribunian

What started with an exposé detailing countless allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein turned into something much bigger as personal stories began pouring in from women in all industries across the world, and the hashtag #MeToo became a rallying cry against sexual assault and harassment. The movement began on social media after a call to action by the actor Alyssa Milano, one of Weinstein’s most vocal critics, who wrote: “If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.”

Within days, millions of women — and some men — used Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to disclose the harassment and abuse they have faced in their own lives. This is the power of social media.

When it comes to harassment, possibly the worst profession in Pakistan is that of the woman reporter. She faces harassment at the hands of her employers, her supervisors, her colleagues as well as people she reports on. The list is endless. In Pakistan, where the media does stories and exposes about other industries, it is ironic that its own house is not in order.

To begin with, most media houses have not complied with government regulations to set up a workplace harassment committee. I know that my previous employer, the Express Group, has it. And so do some of the other leading
media houses. But that is it. Largely, this concept is unheard of in the media world in Pakistan.

In some places, where there are workplace harassment committees, usually they are “manned” by the same people who are the perpetrators. The ironies do not end.

Most women in the media are paid less than their male counterparts. Of course there are exceptions to this but in many instances there is a belief that women do less work than men in the media.

Another myth associated with women journalists is that they are doing the job till they get married and then they will leave it. So it’s no use investing in them. They won’t stay for long. There is also the understanding that women cannot do late hours.

When I was Editor at The Express Tribune, we had one of the most diverse newsrooms in the region, not just Pakistan. We had women section heads, women running shifts and on the desk, as reporters, as photographers and in different roles. We were doing no one any favours - all of these women had proved their worth to be where they were. And we were richer as an organisation thanks to them. Few, if any, quit after their marriage. And many did night shifts. Their only concern was safety on their return home.

It is my firm belief that if we give women a safe work environment, they can do wonders at the workplace. But in Pakistan, it seems everything works against them.

The worst sufferer is the woman reporter and the woman photographer. Her battle starts in the newsroom where editors are not ready to give her more important beats. Instead they are expected to report on “women issues” and if the editor is somewhat of a risk taker then beats like health or education. Work colleagues also undermine them. I recall one woman crime reporter whose male colleague had warned all the police stations in their area of work not to talk to her.

In the field, it’s much worse. Starting from public transport (and thank God we now have Careem and Uber), to the field itself. Lewd comments by sources or people being interviewed. Pushing and shoving at press conferences and public events. All sorts of misbehaviour which they must endure. And when they come back to file their story — the condescending remarks by editors and shift in charges. It is a terrible life.

And yet, women continue to make journalism and reporting their profession. As a result, we have seen some stars emerging and some excellent work being done. Stories that would otherwise not have been possible because the women reporters had access usually denied to the men. This column is dedicated to all you women reporters. Keep up the good work. You are making Pakistan proud. And keep on fighting against the bias and the harassment. I see light at the end of the tunnel.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2017.

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