Women in journalism: Harassed at work

Published: July 24, 2013
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The field of media is not the easiest for women who often face harassment and discrimination. PHOTO: FILE

The field of media is not the easiest for women who often face harassment and discrimination. PHOTO: FILE

The field of media is not the easiest for women who often face harassment and discrimination. PHOTO: FILE The field of media is not the easiest for women who often face harassment and discrimination.
KARACHI: 

“My eyes are up here,” she snaps at the reporter as, mid-conversation, his attention drifts away from her face towards her chest. He giggles; she shrugs it off as just another display of myopic male mentality.

Sadly, these incidents are not uncommon; female broadcast and print journalists share that discrimination and harassment shadow work – in the newsroom, or out in the field.

Of sticks and stones

“Some reporters harass their own female colleagues. A male colleague once offered to ‘help’ me with an assignment if I agreed to meet him at night in an internet café,” says *Ayesha, a 31-year-old reporter at a leading Urdu-language  newspaper. “When I refused to meet him, he revoked the offer.”

Quetta-based broadcast journalist *Nadia recalls similar early experiences.

“Back when I started, if I went to meet the police or a government secretary, they would get a bit too friendly,” she recalls. “One official told me to meet him alone in his office at a specific time, and emphasised that I should not bring my cameraman.”

The schools are full, the field is empty

For female field reporters in Pakistan, a major issue for women is that harassment often goes unreported and unpunished.

Despite the unwelcoming environment, females continue to join the field of journalism undeterred. A report of the NGO “UKS” that was published this month, titled Who’s Telling Our Story: A Situation Analysis of Women in Media in Pakistan, reveals that the number of women and men enrolled in mass communication departments at major universities all over Pakistan is more or less the same.

Paradoxically, the UKS data also brings to light that from the total number of employees at major media houses, only 1.8% are female.

Veteran journalist Afia Salam shares that “When we spoke to final year students [when collecting data for the survey] they told us their families won’t permit them to work since mahol acha nahi hai (the atmosphere is not good). Families are afraid to let their daughters work night shifts and use public transport to come home after sunset,” she explains.

Salam adds that apart from a handful of English-language daily publications, the environment and policies at magazines and newspapers is not conducive to women working.

“The perception of women is skewed also because of their portrayal in the media,” she says. “Parents think that the media is all entertainment and showbiz.”

Broadcast journalist Sana, who hails from a conservative Pashtun family, says she encountered similar setbacks. “My relatives would taunt me and ask if I wanted to model on TV. When I told them that I was going to be a reporter, they were happy.”

An ugly assault

Senior TV journalist Quatrina Hosain relates an ugly episode that took place right before the general elections. Hosain tells The Express Tribune that she was assaulted by a group of 30 men at a PTI rally in Wah Cantt, where she had driven to interview party candidate Ghulam Sarwar. Without going into the gory details, Hosain says, “I don’t know if they were told to teach me a lesson, but I do know that the nature of the assault was really horrific. There were multiple people grabbing at various parts of my body. I was scared that if I fell or any of my clothes were torn, no one would have been able to prevent a rape from taking place. I felt like a cornered animal.”

In the aftermath of the incident, Hosain “had flashbacks.” “I was rude to people who were asking to help me with my bag at the airport. I felt vulnerable and my brain was wired into flight mode. In public spaces, I would desperately search for women so I could go and stand near them,” she says.

She says she was mortified when people on social media accused her of concocting the story to “boost ratings” for her show.

Hosain explains that she did not register an FIR because she did not want the episode to become a political issue. “It happened to me because I am a woman. Men ask us ‘why were you there’. Luckily for me, I reached out to friends and family and got therapy. I am not afraid to talk about it.”

*Some names have been changed

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (23)

  • Nosherwan
    Jul 24, 2013 - 9:42AM

    So very sad indeed.

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  • Amir
    Jul 24, 2013 - 10:16AM

    So the crux of the matter is that the article wanted to point out PTI as the culprit.

    Yes I agree women workforce in pakistan are facing this issue, and it is the sad result of our uneducated masses.

    Laws are there but most are flaunted.

    I had the opportunity of working for a large Media company, and its not just junior reporters or peers, senior member of the organization are there as well doing the unthinkable.

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  • mass comm student
    Jul 24, 2013 - 10:46AM

    Yeah I second this story. Atmosphere at media organizations is not suitable for women because most of the times men at leading positions are involved in such shameless acts and women prefer to leave the matter for the sake of their respect and honour. & I BELIEVE IT’S A COMMON FACT IN THIS CHAUVINISTIC SOCIETY.

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  • ezanius
    Jul 24, 2013 - 10:47AM

    This is very common in this society, all the honourable men would confine their own women in their homes, and prey on the women they’d find on the streets and in markets. These confused and retarded cases have created a new standard of HONOUR and even try to justify it using the religion.

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  • Asjad
    Jul 24, 2013 - 11:51AM

    Having worked at HUM Television Network, I can claim that environment there for women is quite different than what the general perception is.

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  • Zulfiqar Haider
    Jul 24, 2013 - 12:25PM

    Such ‘Honourable’ people are often seen honking at women walking on the streets. and of course how can they allow their own women to walk outside because they will lose their honour this way. How very shameful

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  • Noman Ansari
    Jul 24, 2013 - 12:26PM

    @Amir:
    No that’s not the crux of the article, genius. As a PTI supporter I am often embarrassed by you people.

    Grow up. The world doesn’t revolve around PTI.

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  • Aizaz Bader
    Jul 24, 2013 - 12:47PM

    Mothers are considered to be responsible for raising and character building of the nation. Not the men but the mothers are responsible

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  • Sarah
    Jul 24, 2013 - 12:48PM

    This is OLD NEWS!!!!! why did it have to be repeated?

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  • mmm
    Jul 24, 2013 - 12:54PM

    it requires great courage for any woman and especially a well known woman to come out and speak about .it is a slap on the face of our chauvinistic society. wishing you the best in life quatrina. (but I wish an fir is lodged )

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  • Jul 24, 2013 - 12:58PM

    The issue is neither journalism-specific nor Pakistan-specific. Harassment at workplace is everywhere, in all parts of the world. Even in the developed and so called civilized countries the problem is there, that is why they have comprehensive harassment policies at work place. Otherwise who would bother to create and enforce a policy if the issue doesn’t exist at the first place? However, the issue seems more sensitive in Pakistan because of number of reasons. In developed countries, the name and shame strategy is easily adopted by the victim because she doesn’t care how the society would see her nor the society becomes suspicious of her character. Also, the definition of harassment might be different from country to country. A compliment of how a woman looks like would merely be a compliment in one country but harassment in another country. Even in a particular society it is not necessary that the definition of harassment would be same. In that, local culture and traditions are vital deciding factors. To curb the menace in our society especially in corporate sector, the tone at the top management and the role of HR matters a lot. Strict policies should be developed and implemented. Women should be given more confidence as well as tough action should be taken against the harasser. Regular awareness workshops in the corporate sector would help to spread across the message to everyone that don’t’ dare to harass at work place. Even if tough actions are not taken, the name and shame strategy after warnings would be sufficient in most of the cases. This would eventually spill out in the society outside the company. However, it is unfortunate, that the corporate managements in our society still consider it as a taboo

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  • Kink
    Jul 24, 2013 - 1:09PM

    Read the book: “Working with Sharks”.

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  • Hardliner
    Jul 24, 2013 - 2:17PM

    ET, show some guts and accept an opinion contrary to yours…… censoring comments that do not match with the concept you try to present through your articles/news etc is sheer timidness………… particularly, if these are neither abusive nor personal to someone…….

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  • Ali
    Jul 24, 2013 - 4:27PM

    If I remember correctly Imran Khan himself called her and apologized but of course ET failed to mention that fact.

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  • Syed Arsalan Ali
    Jul 24, 2013 - 4:30PM

    When it comes to PTI, you should always be expecting this kind of behavior in their rallies. People might forget what happened at Minar e Pakistan rally of PTI when it was raining the media show women who were exploited, and still they defend this shameful act. Its pity that we have such people in our society who forget that they do have their mother, sister, wife & daughter which can be equally exploited in the same way, and still they call themselves struggling for justice. Shame on them.

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  • Jul 24, 2013 - 4:37PM

    Shame on PTI. PTI workers have harassed their party members too even Shireen Mazari’s daughter molested by PTI workers

    http://www.xreports.net/2012/05/shireens-daughter-molested-by-pti.html

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  • zahid
    Jul 24, 2013 - 5:22PM

    Now there is another conspiracy against PTI.Why she didn’t reveal this story before?

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  • Nosheen
    Jul 24, 2013 - 5:53PM

    I’m SURE her account is TRUE and sure it happened! Imran’s own sister and Omar Farooq’s daughter’s weren’t spared at his rally here at Minar-e-Pakistan! All the girls who went had something to say! I never went. I mean what they really expect? This is Pakistan….I wouldn’t let my daughter go to Liberty market without my son or driver walking beside her, let alone a rally! They’re quite about it….thats their personal choice but I would have thought they’d be safe at least!

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  • Nosheen
    Jul 24, 2013 - 6:03PM

    I’m SURE her account is TRUE! I’m sure it happened! Even Imran’s own sister and best friend, Omer Farooq’s daughters weren’t spared at his rally here at Minar-e-Pakistan! All the girls who went had something to say! I never went. I mean what they really expect? This is Pakistan….I wouldn’t let my daughter go to Liberty market without my son or driver walking beside her, let alone a rally!

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  • Nosheen
    Jul 24, 2013 - 6:08PM

    @Ali: His own sister and best friend’s daughters were molested at a rally in Lahore but they kept quite about it! Every girl who went had something to say!

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  • Syed A. Mateen
    Jul 24, 2013 - 7:30PM

    I don’t know why male members of the society thinks that females other than their own family members are sale able commodities and products?

    It is not only the case of female reporters or female broadcasters, the female nurses, female lawyers and females working in the government departments, private institutions, air hostesses all are subject to sexual harassment by male doctors, male lawyers, male government officers, male bosses and colleagues, male captains of the aircrafts and male pursers.

    It is a sad storey, but whatever I have stated to the best of the knowledge is 100% correct.

    Do this mean that females stop working, despite the fact that females are working to meet the end needs of their own family members.

    Let us all change our mindset and think before teasing an eve that we do also have our mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.

    How would the male members of the society will feel when their own female family members will be subject to sexual harassment at some other place.

    As you sow, so shall you reap.

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  • Jul 24, 2013 - 9:36PM

    I agree that the environment of many media organisations is not conducive for female journalists to comfortably work in, however, that’s the case with other fields too.
    As for those, who think that the article is part of a smearing campaign against a certain political party, please get a life. That was just an anecdote that one of the journalists shared. That’s her personal experience, and considering the context of the story, it has nothing to do with ‘timeliness’ (As someone pointed out that the news of her harrassment at a political rally was stale). Getting defensive for no reason proves the old adage “chhor ki darhi mein tinka”.

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  • Eddy
    Jul 24, 2013 - 11:08PM

    Oh, so the gropers feasted on Quatrina? Sad to hear that. I’ve seen people groping ladies in public transport in Karachi. Its a shameful act.

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