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August 14, 2020

Women speak up

Editorial

 
August 14, 2020

In Pakistan, little more than around five percent of journalists are women. This is likely one of the reasons why targeting them is relatively easy. The other is of course the deep-rooted misogyny within our society, which is further fanned by those that would use it for their own ends. At a time when there is an obvious disconnect between the freedom of the press and the state, journalists, particularly women, who have criticized the government continue to be attacked online in the most unsavoury language. This is why a group of women journalists, political writers and commentators who are all part of the mediascape have now written an open statement, condemning the abuse they face online, and asking that troll teams and those in powerful positions put an end to such attacks, and instead opt for civilised discourse on social media.

The statement asks that party members be restrained from repeatedly targeting women in the media, and that if any such individual is in the government, s/he must be held accountable. This is not a minor matter. In some cases, the families of female journalists have been targeted as well. The problem essentially is that in an already conservative (increasingly) society, women already face a plethora of problems when they step out and into the public sphere. As journalists and commentators, women should not be afraid to do their job just because someone in power – or their supporters – does not like the way they speak or the opinion they hold. From sexually explicit slurs to body-shaming to outright lies, the women journalists of Pakistan usually have to face this and much more – especially if they dare to disagree with a set narrative. Naturally, that not only affects them as persons, but also affects the way they perform their work. If they are going to be bullied into remaining tentative about their jobs, that is something that needs to be condemned by everyone – regardless of which side of the political spectrum they stand on.

It has been encouraging to see the opposition parties raise this issue as well, with PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari asking the women journalists to attend the next Human Rights Committee meeting of the National Assembly, which he heads. We hope that alongside Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari, who has also tweeted out support for the statement, women who sit in cabinet and in the assemblies will also raise their voices so that all the brave women working in a field that often demands courage and the right to speak are not subjected to the kind of vilification they have faced so far.