Breaking the barriers

By Iqra Sarfaraz
Tue, 04, 19

When it comes to hard hitting stories, female journalists in Pakistan at times play second fiddle. It is high time we stop putting a patriarchal lens on stories. You! takes a look...

When it comes to hard hitting stories, female journalists in Pakistan at times play second fiddle. It is high time we stop putting a patriarchal lens on stories. You! takes a look...

There have been a number of famous male journalists in Pakistan who are inspirational reporters and news anchors. Their stories are concrete and have had an impact on the masses. Often times, young aspiring journalists draw inspiration from them in order to work efficiently and effectively in the news rooms.

As a matter of fact, journalism has always been a male dominated field. Despite having some notable women in the industry, journalism in Pakistan is not a level playing field. Women make up around five per cent of the Pakistani media industry, according to the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists. When it comes to 'serious' beats and 'sensitive' stories, female journalists at times play second fiddle to their male counterparts. And, before all of that, they also pay a price for pursuing a career in journalism. For instance, many feel stigmatized as 'bad women' just because of their profession. Some have had their character explicitly questioned, while others feel their families are unhappy with them for entering a traditionally male-dominated world. However, there are a number of brave women, who despite all the challenges - personal and professional - dare to enter the field of journalism and work on serious, hard hitting stories. Razia Bhatti is one respectable name, who set an example for other female journalists to follow suit. This week You! talks to some fearless female journalists, who have broken the barriers, belonging from different backgrounds and cities...

Image courtesy: ifex

February 2019 was a turning point in my life as I had the chance to meet and interact with several women who are unstoppable with big dreams in their eyes.

We were a group of ten girls travelling from different cities of Pakistan to the United States of America on a Women Journalism Training Program carried by the US State Department. Interestingly, a few women I spoke to shared that they were only able to successfully work as journalists because they had the support of their family. Without this, they might have had to give up on their dreams of becoming a journalist. On the other hand, there were some who apart from facing so many hurdles chose to not give up and fight tirelessly to achieve what they are today...

Khalida Niaz

Khalida Niaz from Nowshera, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has been running a local news network for the last five years as a News Producer. Before joining the field of journalism, Khalida didn't know anything about it. All she remembers is that she had a dream to follow and an undying spirit to achieve something in an area where women don't even have a right to attain proper education. "I loved listening to the radio while hiding in a corner of my house as I wasn't allowed to sit late at night and listen to it. I used to think whether I would be able to do my own radio show one day. Once, my teacher told me about journalism and I started to develop interest in it. I put it on top of the list of fields I had to choose from, while taking admission in the university. I even got the admission which was impossible for a girl like me who had a conservative family and was not allowed to study," shared Khalida.

Image courtesy: Freedom Network

While talking about her struggles, Khalida told, "As I live in a village, challenges began from there because women usually don't have a voice here, they can't make a choice in any matter, let alone working as a journalist. My family told me it was okay to aim for it but there is no possibility that I could pursue my career in journalism. But somehow, I convinced them. After my family, our relatives made my life miserable with their constant poking and talking behind my back. Words like: 'Larki ho ke larkon ke sath kaam kerti hai, radio pe ati hai, khabren parhti hai', ached my heart. Even today when I go to work, I listen to such comments. In the beginning it was painful, but now, I have become accustomed to these things and don't pay heed to it... I have become strong. Now, nobody can keep me away from my passion," she enthused.

Women like Khalida are an inspiration for those girls who belong to different remote areas, where a girl's right to education is still questionable. All they require is to focus and never stop working to achieve success. This is the only way to shut the voices surrounding them. "My struggles don't make me feel heavy because I find gratitude in seeing girls from my village going to schools and colleges now. People often give my reference to them to learn and fight for their dreams just like I did. I am from a small village and yet I was able to achieve a lot," told Khalida with pride. Till now, Khalida has been to Germany and the US to explore her profession and herself as a person. She can proudly say that she is working shoulder to shoulder with men, has given interviews to BBC and AlJazeera and has done some amazing things to prove her mettle in journalism. "My message to young girls is that you should definitely raise your voice for your rights, but do it in a way that you become a role model for others and your family. There will be hurdles but don't lose hope and be honest to your aims," added Khalida.

Yusra Sethi

Apart from day to day struggles, women in journalism often face difficulties in covering news which 'they are not supposed to cover' and only men can handle those areas. It is about time we stop putting a patriarchal lens on stories. Amina Amir, a news correspondent in Islamabad, is a passionate journalist who despite being married didn't give up her career as she thought her reporting would help in communicating the problems of people. She defied the norms of journalism by jumping into hard hitting stories on politics and crime, which is often considered a no-go area for female journalists in Pakistan or the world over.

Amina Amir

"After marriage my husband supported me in continuing my work as a serious journalist. Being a mother, it often becomes quite challenging to run a career and family life simultaneously. But that didn't stop me or my urge to serve people. I give extra time to work for covering events and stories on politics, crime and social issues. Also, in a male dominated field like journalism, I often face constant criticism and harassment by men which at times becomes very challenging to stay in the field but regardless of all that, nothing has stopped me," shared Amina.

Amina is brave, strong and believes in herself. Every girl would want a family like her which is so supportive of her career. "I was lucky because my father and brothers supported me and gave me courage. They never thought that I am a woman. They always told me to stay strong and try to fulfil my dreams. However, it's a fact that I am the only woman in my family who is a journalist, maybe due to the tough life and challenges it brings along with it," she commented.

Fatima Nazish

Fatima Nazish from Peshawar, who is a senior journalist at a local news station and covers social issues, violence against women and education, has turned down the so-called rules for female journalists in Pakistan. She has been assigned serious beats and has been working in the field for the past four years. Her family was supportive but it didn't mean that she didn't face any societal pressures. "Although there were no reservations from the family when I showed my interest in media, but as you know in a society like ours, girls often face resistance from their parents or relatives while choosing their careers or fields like journalism. But if you have a degree, you should definitely utilise it. I would say that people who demean women sitting at homes should realise that they are not useless. Women do have a voice, all they need is a little support and courage to get out of their comfort zone and work wonders," asserted Fatima.

Following the same vein, another journalist from Peshawar, Yusra Sethi is doing field reporting for a news channel highlighting issues related to transgender and the society as a whole. "My father wanted me to join media and face the challenges of this field. His dream was to see me on TV as a news anchor, and had always admired how people in the media have a voice and can act as an agent of change. He always taught me how to be courageous and brave regardless of my gender," said Yusra.

"Every girl should have faith in herself. She should come out of the barriers because she has a voice. She can achieve whatever she aimed for. Life is a constant struggle so there is no need to be scared from anyone or the taboos which women have always been put in," she added.

Fakhira Najib

Talking about handling the business on a managerial level, Managing Director of a local radio channel, Fakhira Najib from Abbottabad stated, "I am the only woman in my family who joined this field and I am lucky to get their support. However, working especially at the management level is not that easy as it seems. I have pioneered internationally recognised interactive radio instruction programme for more than 200000 children in the age bracket of five to10 (especially girls) in both formal and non-formal settings across Pakistan, which is quite challenging for a woman in our country."

"You have to multiply your efforts and build a strong personality to establish yourself in a male dominated field where a female journalist is pushed away from opportunities. We need more women in media who will lead the discussion and strive for balanced reporting. I urge all of them to step out and explore journalism with its true aim to inform and aware," concluded Fakhira.