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Thursday, August 4, 2011
Global Toolbox

By Bruce C. Swaffield

It is difficult enough for journalists in Pakistan, but what about those who are women? They seem to be fighting a double battle, to be recognized by both their male counterparts as well as the rest of society.

But there is a group that has taken on the challenge of helping women who want to pursue careers in journalism.

Fauzia Shaheen, an internationally recognized writer and recipient of numerous awards, founded the organization several years ago. She talked recently about the difficulty of integrating women into the media in her country. Here is a brief summary.

Who: Women Media Center Pakistan (WMC)

What: A non-profit organization created to advance and promote the role of Pakistani women in the media.

Where: The group is based in Karachi but works throughout the nation.

When: Training sessions for female journalists are conducted many times during the year.

Why: Two of its primary goals are to: “provide [a] professional environment and to increase women’s participation in the mainstream media through training, research and education” and “improve women’s status by means of promoting socially conscious programs on television, video and radio to raise awareness.”

How: Through publications, seminars, studies, reports and workshops, WMC emphasizes the contributions and skills of female journalists.

The issues: In the words of Shaheen, “Pakistan has an unfortunate history of military coups. These totalitarian regimes do not allow freedom of expression as affirmed by Article 6 of our constitution. Channels are often banned for airing anti-government content. I founded this organization for uplifting the capacity of women media students and journalists to help strengthen democracy in the country when General Pervez Musharraf was the president of Pakistan in 2005. The idea of empowering women for this cause was unique and was, therefore, not very warmly welcomed by the media organizations. It was hard to convince [a] male-dominated media that women can be equally efficient in reporting hard news.”

The difficulties: “Another setback faced by the women in our country is the issue related to environment. Families do not allow their females to stay outside home for long hours, especially during night. We provide our trainees flexible timings so that the families are not concerned and, at the same time, women can utilize their skills by freelancing after trainings. We believe that once these women have relevant trainings and can acquire respectable jobs, no one in the family would be able to object to their roles in media. Expertise gained through training improves their pay scale, which renders them important in their families.”

The effects: “After we started organizing trainings, such as ‘Accountability and Good Governance for Strengthening Democracy’ and ‘Responsibilities of Public Representatives in Democratic Institutions,’ media organizations started considering our trainees for hard news reporting as well. Many of our trainees have now been appointed in large media organizations as reporters, anchors [and] researchers. Government has also started taking notice of harassment at workplaces, and many unreported issues related to women are now being reported.”

The seminars: “Recently we held a workshop in Quetta, Balochistan. Female media students and journalists complained of male domination and lack of opportunities for females. Several newspapers and channels have agreed to encourage female participation in the section of hard news in particular. The news packages, documentaries and talk shows produced by our trainees will now be aired on broadcast media as well. All the scripting, editing, voice over, camera-handling and other technicalities had all been performed by these trainees.”

The future: “We face many challenges every day, and we create solutions every day, too. We as an organization are optimistic about a positive change in Pakistani media towards women’s roles and issues through our constant and never-ending endeavors. Oppression can only end when voices are raised. I am sure that our trainees will one day become the voice of positive change though media.”

How you can help: “Journalists in [the] USA can help us by writing more about our organization so that relevant organizations come to know about us and can extend their assistance for the cause by means of giving professional expertise, financial help or otherwise. (Besides this), it would be kind of you to share the modern course of study that is adopted for journalism students in your country so that we can improve our training standards here. Knowledge about [the] latest communication theories, methods of effective communication, equipment and other relevant technologies can improve our media system [and] can help our cause.”

Write today: Contact Shaheen at fauziashaheen@gmail.com for more information on getting involved in WMC. Let us know if you begin to work with this organization so we can present details in a follow-up column.

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