Women reaching and shattering the so-called “glass ceiling” and setting benchmarks are rare, and thus, discussions surrounding them not commonplace. Add to that a very male-centred field like journalism and you’ve got the perfect brew of patriarchy with a dash of sexism and a strong taste of ego.
A closer look at history reveals how, a few decades back, it was nigh impossible for women to step into careers dominated by men but then there are always some exceptions, which, eventually, become aspirations for the world.
This International Women’s Day, let’s take a few minutes to remember the great journalistic warriors who stood their ground — unwavering and determined — to make their voices heard and set milestones for others to follow.
Razia Bhatti — First female magazine founder
The untimely demise of Bhatti at the age of 52 brought about the ‘End of a golden chapter of journalism in Pakistan’ and justly so, for she established Newsline, and thereby, became the first female founder of a local magazine.
Bhatti was a force to reckon with: at countless instances during her 30-year career, during which she worked at Herald and Newsline, attempts were made to silence the lone, “different” voice. She was awarded the ‘Courage in Journalism’ award by New York-based International Women’s Media Foundation in 1994
However, what may arguably be her most jarring yet bold move was when she stepped down from her editorial post amid pressure to sugar up General Zia-ul-Haq’s dictatorship and went on to start her own current affair magazine.
Soon thereafter, the magazine soon gave renowned and established newspapers a run for their money, thanks to Bhatti’s editorship and meagre but honest resources. Thundering through, resolute and steadfast despite the threats and harassments, the valiant journalist was hard to intimidate. So much so that General Zia-ul-Haq once allegedly waved a copy of her article during a press conference, stating furiously that that kind of journalism would not be tolerated.
Zaib-un-Nissa Hamidullah — First female Columnist
Hamidullah was the first female to contribute English columns to Pakistani media outlets as well as the first Muslim female columnist to write in an Indian newspaper in English. Not only that but she was also the first woman journalist to be included in press delegations to visit foreign countries.
Prior to independence in 1947, she used to write for Indian newspapers but after Pakistan came into being, she became the country’s first female contributor to write a political commentaries in leading English dailies.
The journalist’s first venture after her departure from Dawn was The Mirror of the Month — a trendy social and lifestyle magazine that was published from 1951 to 1972 and was commonly known just as the Mirror.
In 1995, she made a special address to Egypt’s Al Azhar University.
Having exclusively interviewed Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Hamidullah, in 1956, represented her country at a United Nations-sponsored seminar on Civic responsibilities and Increased Participation of Asian Women in Public Life.
She inched further into the spotlight when she refused to publicly apologise for her criticism during the harsh regime of Iskander Mirza and appealed to the Supreme Court instead. Emerging triumphant in the case, she, thus, marked her name in history as the first female journalist to win a case in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The Zaibunnisa Street in Karachi’s Saddar is named after her for the unmatched services she rendered to the nation.
Zubeida Mustafa — First Female Reporter
With a career that spanned 33 years, Mustafa joined a leading media outlet in 1975 to become Pakistan’s first woman reporter to pioneer issues relating to women, health, and education, and culture — topics that her male colleagues didn’t consider worthy to be reported.
Being the only woman in her organization, she used her unique position to voice concerns about social issues and bring into limelight the suffering of women, children, and the common man. These were issues that impacted the well-being of people, society, and, in turn, the country.
Having bagged multiple awards, Mustafa’s research papers have been published in Pakistan Horizon — a quarterly journal of Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA).
Among her other accolades are two Lifetime Achievement Awards — by UKS (2013) and by Ladies Fund (2015) — and Global Media Award for Excellence (1986 and 2004). She is also remembered for creating Dawn’s ‘Books & Authors’.