SANGAY RABTEN | Thimphu
Observing International Women’s Day this year, media experts and journalists of South Asia have called for a systematic structural change to break the bias, and to accelerate women’s equal participation in leadership roles.
It is observed that ownership pattern, gender stereotypes, policy, culture, safety, and environment are some of the factors which lead to gender biases and, therefore, requires immediate structural transformation to encourage women journalists to lead newsrooms and take decision-making roles.
These observations and insights came during the South Asia Panel discussion on “Accelerating Women’s Equal Participation in Media”, organized by Media Action Nepal, to observe the 112th International Women’s Day on 8 March.
Presenting a grim picture of the South Asian media ownership modality, Laxman Datt Pant, Chairperson of Media Action Nepal and the Co-Chair of the Media Freedom Coalition-Consultative Network (MFC-CN), urged that “the region requires an immediate structural transformation in the media ownership to encourage women journalists to lead newsrooms and take decision-making roles.”
He said that this can be achieved through policy revisions and reflections of gender-sensitive indicators in actions to ensure that an enabling environment is created in terms of recognition and respect.
Similarly, Dr. Sadia Jamil, Chair of the Journalism Research and Education Section at International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR), emphasized that gender inequality is rooted in culture across South Asia and goes beyond the newsroom.
She said it is important to understand that strong women or strong journalists are not born but rather created by embracing the challenges they face.
While talking about challenges women journalists face to pursue a career in journalism, Dilrukshi Handunnetti, Executive Director of Center for Investigative Reporting, Sri Lanka and the Co-Convener of South Asian Women in Media said, “Media institutions are mostly run by men and for men. The structure, culture, family, and institutions in South Asia are less supportive to women to have a career in journalism or media.”
She added that it’s noteworthy that organizations like Media Action Nepal and others have been working to support transformation in the structure of media institutions that will support women to assume leadership positions.
Priyanka Jha, Vice-Chairperson of Media Action Nepal shared the importance of the safety of journalists. Until women journalists feel safe physically, mentally, and economically, she said, it is less likely for women to build a career in journalism.
“Regardless of our choice of media, we have a good chance of encountering stereotypes that perpetuate gender discrimination and it is because of the control of media lies at the hand of one particular gender,” Jha said.
Pallavi Sareen, Editor-in-Chief of the Straight Line in India, said, “Due to the existing gender stereotypes, it is difficult for women journalists to go to the field and collect the news. People would not want to share their stories with women journalists as they think women journalists will not take their stories where it needs to be.” She also shared that it is important to have women journalists’ support groups so they can help each other.
Nasima Akter Soma, President of Bangladesh Nari Sangbadik Samity (Bangladesh Female Journalists Association) said for women journalists to move ahead in their career, it is important they have support from fellow male journalists. She added women can be in decision-making positions in the media only with support from fellow male journalists.
Similarly, Tashi Dema, a senior journalist of Bhutan said, “Women journalists should be trained and mentored as it is necessary for their career growth, and to ensure they make it to the decision-making level based on meritocracy.”
The virtual session comprised panelists from six South Asian countries – Sri Lanka, India, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Nepal along with a keynote speaker from Pakistan, and was attended by over 50 journalists and media professionals of the region.
Media Action Nepal, a member of the MFC-CN, has been promoting a gender-sensitive working environment and gender-sensitive media content through capacity building and research initiatives in Nepal and across South Asia.