AUSTIN SZABO WRITES – Though they’ve reported on floods, bombings, wars, and protests in some of the most dangerous places in the world, female journalists in Pakistan and India are still threatened and mistreated at home.
Despite repeated calls for change from groups ranging from the United Nations to the Women’s Media Center Pakistan, female journalists continue to experience terrible working conditions in both countries. Recent advances for women in the region, such as the political ascents of Benazir Bhutto and Sonia Gandhi, have not translated into better career environments for women. A substantial pay gap still exists, and worse, women are frequently denied promotions, staying at entry level positions and covering human interest stories while their male colleagues move up.
The most pressing problem for women in journalism is that they continue to be a minority. According to The Hindu, out of 700 members, The Pakistan Association of Television Journalists (ATJ) has just 50 women. In Pakistan, there are five male journalists for every female journalist. This inequality in numbers leads to a lack of representation in the media, as well as a lack of safety in the workplace.
A part of the danger is where they work. One of India’s most successful journalists, Tarun Tejpal, sexually assaulted a co-worker after she had presented to him a story about a rape survivor. BBC wrote a positive profile about him, praising his career as a story-breaking journalist, and discussing the fact he is “plunged in turmoil,” rather than his rape accusation. Much like coverage of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, the achievements of these men overshadow the accusations against them.
Another BBC article uses the headline Sex scandal batters India’s top investigative title, as if sexually assaulting someone is simply another cause for scandal. Unfortunately, this type of reporting is not unique to this story. Accusations of rape levied against important men are reported more as scandals than they are as criminal cases.
In a leaked correspondence between the victim and the perpetrator, the journalist tells Tejpal: “The moment you laid a hand on me, I started begging you to stop. I invoked every single person and principle that was important to us…” Who knows if the case against Tejpal would have gone anywhere without such strong evidence? Many other victims of sexual assault in the business were intimidated into silence. Despite the evidence, some have attempted to defend the accused by claiming conspiracy, the same tactic used against the alleged victim of Julian Assange’s assault.
There is just as much danger for women in fieldwork. In August, a photojournalist was gang-raped in Mumbai while on assignment. The New York Times discussed the assault with the unsympathetic headline Why Female Journalists in India Still Can’t Have It All. There are few safe spaces for Indian women outside of their homes, and journalists are usually sent out on assignment with no company or protection with valuable recording equipment.
Meanwhile, Pakistani journalists face more direct danger. The Taliban continues to send death threats to journalists working nearby, especially women like Farida Nekzad, who has worked in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. She has been threatened with rape and acid attacks after she founded her own news agency.
“Being a woman, one becomes very vulnerable as no steps have been taken for the safety and security of women journalists,” says a journalist working from Kandahar. Pakistani women journalists report in a country that is getting more violent for journalists with every passing day.
How these journalists are viewed is another part of the problem. Researching female journalists led one to an article that takes female journalists and ranks them by attractiveness. These articles show the attitudes many have towards women in traditionally male jobs, complete lack of respect.
When female journalists are given enough respect to not have to worry about being attacked on the streets or at work, they will, as the New York Times says, “have it all.”