Many would agree that some strides have been made in how the media portrays women in film, television and magazines. The last few years have seen a growth in the presence and influence of women in media behind the scenes and on the forefront. Nevertheless, female stereotypes continue to thrive in the media we consume every day. To counter this stereotyping, there is a need for conversations which bring about ideas to make pertinent changes.
Recently, the three-day Pakistan International Film Festival (PIFF), Women’s Edition 2021, organised by the Karachi Film Society was held at Frere Hall, Karachi. The festival featured seminars and workshops on several topics concerning the media, film and the role of women.
The event started with Festival Director, Misbah Khalid, introducing this year’s PIFF initiative and President of KFS, Sultana Siddiqui then delivered her welcoming speech. While addressing the attendees, she explained the theme and stressed on the need to engage the youth in the performing arts as they are the future of the country. She also spoke about the inclusion of women, especially young blood in the filmmaking process to learn the finer points of film-making and shed light on the festival’s objectives of providing the aspiring young people with a platform to showcase their talent to the world.
On the first day, the panel discussion on ‘What is Stopping Our Films from Growing Internationally?’ was attended by Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Information and Broadcasting, Senator Faisal Javed Khan, as well as the founding members of KFS and the media fraternity. Moderated by Kamran Jawaid, a senior film critic, the panel for the session comprised Sheikh Amjad Rasheed, Chairman IMGC Group, Selina Rashid CEO Lotus PR, Irfan Malik, Senior VP ARY Group and Omer H. Paracha, founder of PARAVAL and an executive producer of upcoming film Echo Boomers. They discussed the lack of growth of Pakistani films in the international market and the reasons and challenges behind this slow growth. They also discussed the low return of investment, quality of films, government facilitation, the need to experiment with various genres of filmmaking and upgrading filmmaking technology and equipment.
Following the panel discussion, Senator Faisal Javed Khan delivered a keynote speech. While addressing the attendees, he stressed on the need to concentrate on the local side of the film industry before discussing the international aspect of it. “Pakistan’s film industry needs a minimum of 1,000 screens and at least 100 films a year just to sustain it. Also, filmmakers should not copy the neighbouring country if they want to go global, present your own ideas to the world,” advised. While addressing the government’s incentives and facilitation for the film industry, he informed the audience that Prime Minister Imran Khan has approved an entertainment, film policy which will soon be launched.
The second day kicked off with a workshop on ‘Fighting Harassment at the Workplace’, conducted by Xenab Ansari, giving her experience to spread awareness about harassment and teaching attendees how to protect themselves. She also shared her skill-set and knowledge on the subject. Dr Fouzia Saeed, Director General PNCA and member of the board of governors KFS was the chief guest at the workshop, who also shared her experience on the topic.
The workshop was followed by a panel discussion on ‘Covid-19: Challenges & Opportunities, Understanding the ‘New Normal’’. The panel discussion was moderated by broadcast journalist Sidra Iqbal and the panellists were: Senator (r) Javed Jabbar, social activist Dr Fouzia Saeed, former MD of OUP Ameena Saiyid, Amin Hashwani, Dr Farah Essa Zaidi, Duraid Qureshi and Fizza Ali Meerza CEO FilmWala Pictures. The panel discussed issues and challenges related to Pakistani films and entertainment industry post covid-19, the portrayal of women in Pakistani media, access of the lower and middle class to cinema, the need to establish a digital entertainment platform and challenges in adapting to the new normal since Covid-19.
The final day of the event featured a workshop on ‘Women Entrepreneurship in a Creative Economy’ which was conducted by Ashifa Paracha, CEO Brand Advertising, WCCI member and founder of the Pakistan Digital Awards & Corporate Lounge and Sadaf Mahmood, CEO Xiphios Innovations and COO Nutshell Communications. Organised under the umbrella of Women Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCCI), the workshop detailed how women can learn and further promote businesses and startups in the digital world.
The two women encouraged the young attendees to pursue their ideas. Sadaf emphasised that it’s not about how many resources you have but how resourceful are you. She shared tips on how one can start brainstorming and prepare themselves to start their business. Ashifa further elaborated on the topic and shared anecdotes regarding new businesses and how they came to be.
The workshop was followed by a panel discussion on ‘Gender Stereotypes in Media and What are Women Doing About It?’ The panel discussion was attended by the Provincial Minister of Sindh for Culture, Tourism, and Antiquities, Syed Sardar Ali Shah, Senator Sehar Kamran, media fraternity, founding members of the Karachi Film Society and other guests including Bushra Ansari, Zeba Bakhtiar, Urwa Hocane and Shafaat Ali.
The seminar was moderated by Tazeen Hussain, an associate professor and head of the Department of Communication Design at Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. The panellists present were Sultana Siddiqui, Atiqa Odho, Sangeeta, and Tasneem Ahmar, head of UKS Research Centre. The panel addressed the discrimination persisting against women in the media industry. Odho shared that although these issues do exist in our industry one has to be strong, persistent and vocal about all kinds of discrimination. She also said it was her co-actors (men) who helped her in the field in the beginning of her career. To that Tasneem Ahmar contradicted that sadly, there are still newsrooms where women are discriminated and their numbers are far fewer than men. She also highlighted the need to change how women are constantly portrayed in stereotypical imagery, whether it’s a drama or advertisement – either cooking, making tea or in a household setup.
Sultana Siddiqui added that women in our field are judged differently than men and we need to change the lens through which women are viewed. The younger generation, especially women, should be encouraged to join the field and it can only be done through collective efforts. Men and women should learn to co-exist if they want to succeed, she added. The discussion called for the need to change the mindset of the masses through realistic portrayals of strong and successful women
characters, changes required in PEMRA laws and the need to establish strong, independent association to protect the rights of women in media. Finally, they stressed the need to establish strong and independent digital entertainment portals, co-productions and government facilitation.
– A. Akmal