By Sara Danial
Tue, 10, 23

Women journalists have played a significant role in shaping the media industry, from reporting on important events to advocating for gender equality and social justice. However, despite progress in recent years, women journalists still need to face several challenges. You! takes a look…


Pakistan has had a hostile environment for journalists, reporters, and media establishments since its inception. This environment breeds fear and self-censorship, constraining coverage of critical issues such as corruption, human rights abuses, and political repression. Despite this, numerous Pakistani women journalists have played a crucial role in changing the media industry, whether in traditional print media, modern electronic media, or the rise of social and digital platforms. Nevertheless, despite their noteworthy contributions, the progression of women’s roles in media landscape has been far from smooth and satisfactory.

According to a report titled ‘Life as a Woman in Pakistani Journalism: Threats, Harassment, and Rejection’ published by Freedom Network, women constitute less than 5 per cent of the approximately 20,000 journalists in Pakistan. A combination of factors contributes to this situation. Journalists, in general, contend with less-than-optimal working conditions, especially where the annual press freedom and safety indexes have consistently ranked among the worst. However, women in the media encounter additional hurdles, spanning from workplace harassment to societal and cultural constraints to pay disparities. You! takes a look…

Breaking the silence

The universe of journalism bears witness to a courageous and resilient cadre of female journalists who continually confront formidable challenges in their pursuit of truth and reporting. Delving into their remarkable journey who navigate an industry known for its perilous nature is important. Female journalists encounter a unique set of obstacles that compound these overarching challenges, encompassing workplace harassment, gender bias, and deeply ingrained societal and cultural restrictions.

Another important issue is that in the realm of economic and business news, people are not used to having females asking questions. “It is a tad overwhelming to be genuinely outnumbered, being the only woman on a panel or as a reporter. So, a female is practically a loner amongst men who are not only older, but just not part of the circle,” says a renowned female journalist (who wishes to remain anonymous) belonging to the economy beat. She received a legal notice, and even a “Watch out where you’re going” as a warning to essentially silence her. “Sometimes, when one walks in to conduct an interview, the male colleagues are addressed far more than the female counterparts. This kind of access (over social dinners and in smoke spaces) is especially held back for females when one is trying to reach out to sources in the government sector or regulatory bodies. As a human, then, one is forced to womansplain in retaliation,” she tells.

Amid this tumultuous backdrop, females demonstrate remarkable determination and resilience. As agents of change, they employ storytelling prowess to shed light on critical issues, challenge societal norms, and advocate for the silenced voices within their communities. Journalism has never been easy, especially for those who treat it as a passion and want to bring quality to the forefront. Whether it is the digital platform, print medium, or the box TV, the field has become competitive with numerous channels and everyone wants their stories to get maximum coverage, in terms of readership, viewership, etc. “In terms of opportunities, while one can witness improvement, the patriarchal set hasn’t been completely uprooted. The female reporters are restricted to the beats pertaining to health, social issues, education and women’s issues. They are not chosen for politics, current affairs, economy or crime. One has to prove doubly hard that one has the potential to tackle these.

Nadia Naqi
Nadia Naqi

On many channels I worked for previously, I have faced instances where there is an important story to be covered in Islamabad (like a lawyer’s movement, hosting a political show), and the men felt insecure and did not want to partake in team work. This is why there is a dearth of female political analysts and commentators. While it may affect those who are in the infant years in the media, but once you have learned to sail, you learn to steer clear and emerge much stronger,” relays Nadia Naqi, a journalist and TV anchor.

The struggle is not solely within newsrooms, or on fields, but is deeply intertwined with the broader societal fabric. Today, we shed light on their valiant efforts as they strive to overcome not only external threats but also internal barriers, contributing to the evolution of journalism and gender dynamics in a nation where the power of the press remains a force to be reckoned with.

Shattering the boundaries

In journalism, a major persistent and formidable challenge faced by women is the existence of the glass ceiling, coupled with pervasive gender bias. “There were two phases to how I carved my space in journalism. When I started out as a reporter, I felt that men had a given unfair advantage to go into the field, create a context and develop relevant sources. As women, we are more prone to harassment and are misconstrued even when we approach someone professionally. So, as a woman, one has to walk on a tight but delicate rope in professional capacity. The next phase was when I became a news anchor, and that is where being a female helped me because there was a specific demand for it. Back then, female news anchors were paid more than male news anchors,” recalls Maria Memon, renowned Pakistani TV journalist, newscaster and anchor.

“I then transitioned to a programme anchor, and I was back to that stage where men have more advantage as late night meetings were a norm to create bonds, community and sources. Of course, this translates into the pay grades, accessibility and impact as well. But things are getting better in terms of representation. Access and privilege are still a far-fetched advantage for women. For instance, I cannot call a politician at odd hours like men can - they can sit with them and freely socialise,” she adds.

These factors significantly impact the career trajectories and opportunities available to female journalists, often limiting their ascent within newsrooms and leadership roles. It constrains their potential and stymies their ability to influence editorial decisions and shape narratives.

“Similar to women in other fields, female journalists face additional challenge of navigating the power dynamics rooted in patriarchy, which grants men a sense of entitlement to mistreat women. Female reporters, especially those in the field, bear the brunt of such hostilities. They often choose to handle these issues privately, as both employers and families often use them as a pretext for suppression. While the #Metoo movement has helped deter overt harassment, many still silently endure the implicit abuse by men,” emphasises Afshan Subohi, a freelance journalist.

Afshan Subohi
Afshan Subohi

This restrictive environment hampers the professional growth of women in journalism and impinges upon their mental health and well-being. The constant struggle against gender bias and the ceiling that stifles their progress can lead to stress, anxiety, and burnout, ultimately hindering their capacity to report freely and pursue stories that challenge the status quo. The online harassment and physical dangers are definitely increasing with time, as the media landscape is widening with digital platforms and social spaces. “While all of this has provided a vast space to voice our opinions to a wider audience, it has also made us more prone to harassment, especially female journalists. For instance, if one is covering a political story that may hurt one political party or their interests, one does face harassment. And it can come in several forms – either the whole party reacts by boycotting the journalist in question (for example, not coming to the shows, etc.) or spreading misinformation about him/her. One can be trolled by the official social media handles of the political parties by way of character assassination. While conducting an analysis or a vlog, the online harassment in the form of comments is unbelievable. This has made journalists less active on these platforms; they have been pushed back in their work, have worked with a mental warning that backlash will be certain, or have entirely silenced themselves. Moreover, if I like a tweet, or retweet, something that is against the majority, one is definitely inviting trouble. In Pakistan, there are many powers-to-be that cannot tolerate any negative news, and they have gone to great lengths to silence the journalists’ voices, with enforced disappearances; they are being harassed and followed to threaten you. Many journalists have also had to fled the country and change the genre as they spoke against certain religious sentiments,” explains Nadia.

Breaking through these barriers is a profound endeavour that requires individual resilience and systemic change to foster gender equality and empower Pakistani women to reach their full potential as storytellers and change makers.


Charting a path

As the landscape of journalism continues to evolve, it is important to highlight the need for a concerted effort to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. “I’ve been lucky enough to have not been harassed. But I know for sure that it is not easy for women to scale themselves up in this field. I have been bestowed with great bosses and mentors who steered me in the right direction; discouraging shortcuts, working hard and receiving great guidance from amazing role models. Many people do not have this advantage. A large chunk of my work entails on-field tasks, interacting with people, while I haven’t faced sexual harassment, being a female one always has to be at the toes and stay extra vigilant. There was once a case where people began throwing things during a live coverage of a jalsa so I quickly wrapped up and handled the situation tactfully, with the help of my team consisting of male cameramen who ensured I had a good experience. Now that I look back, I feel that I had wonderful colleagues,” shares Maria.

Maria Memon
Maria Memon

Introducing mentoring programmes and journalism fellowships to provide young female journalists with guidance, support, and professional development opportunities is essential. It will equip them with the skills necessary to thrive in the competitive field and serve as a means of breaking down barriers that have long constrained women’s progression in journalism. “Even though the female fraternity in the media has come a long way, we have much further to go to realise equity. It is heartening to know that female journalists are being invited by the female hosts of the shows. We need diversity in the beats we are delegated, we need to recognise that we don’t necessarily need male counterparts. We need to hire more females in newsrooms, and on key positions, such as production and programming heads – these are the policy changes media organisations should look into, not for the sake of having a pretty face but because they bring merit, intellect, professional ethics and experience to the table,” expresses Nadia.

These policy changes are instrumental in dismantling the structures that perpetuate gender bias and unequal opportunities. By adopting proactive measures, such as ensuring equal pay, fair representation in editorial decision-making, and creating channels for reporting workplace harassment, news organisations can play a pivotal role in advancing gender equality. “All gender parity laws and regulations should be rigorously enforced. A dedicated team of legal experts specialising in this field should periodically review the legal framework for further improvements. Media organisations should offer flexible working hours and childcare facilities for young mothers, while ensuring gender equality in facilities such as free medical coverage for spouses, children and parents along with addressing gender pay disparities. Advertisers, private companies and government agencies should consider incorporating gender audits as part of their criteria for selecting media platforms. Women journalists should unite and organise to closely monitor and advocate for gender and pay parity within the profession,” elucidates Afshan.

In this journey towards equality, it is paramount to envision and work towards a future where Pakistani journalism is truly representative and reflective of the diverse society it serves. “If women were not around in these spaces, then the stories cannot be told in a way that sensitive issues necessitate. Making up for half of the population, it is important for females to reclaim our space in the newsrooms, boardrooms and on-screen and off-screen in the field of journalism. Not joining is not an option. The question is not to either opt for journalism or not as a career, the real question is how soon we can reclaim this space to voice out our stories,” concludes Maria.

The writer is a communication specialist and a freelance journalist based in Karachi. She can be reached at