Wednesday, June 16, 2010

PAKISTAN: Female Journalist Makes History in Male-Dominated Media

The election of a woman as general secretary of the Khyber Union of Journalists (KhUJ) — the first ever in the male-dominated Pakhtun society— may well encourage more women to enter journalism.
On Jan. 30, Aneela Shaheen was elected as the first female general secretary of the 320-member journalists’ organisation based in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) capital of Peshawar. “Challenges before me are huge. We will struggle to do away with contractual jobs in media industry and arrangement on a war footing for protection of media workers due to the deteriorating law and order situation,” she told AMF in an exclusive interview. In 2009, Shaheen won against a male colleague for the joint secretary slot of the Peshawar Press Club. The 29-year-old journalist, who has a master’s degree in health and physical education from NWFP's Gomal University Dera Ismail Khan, began her career as a magazine reporter of the morning edition of 'Urdu Daily Subh'. She later reported for Dunya (World) TV. In a telephone interview with AMF, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFYJ) general secretary Shamsul Islam Naz congratulated Shaheen for making a difference in the history of journalism in an area where women leaders are generally frowned upon. "I pay my compliments to the members of the KhUJ who, in fact, created history by electing a female as general secretary, Aneela Shaheen, in a one-to-one contest with a man," he said. There are only 37 female journalists in the 10,000 members of the Pakistan journalists’ union. "We had Fareeda Hafiz as general secretary of the Rawalpindi Union of Journalists in the late '80s and recently, Fauzia Shahida, who was elected vice president and then general of the PFUJ in 2007 and 2008, respectively," he added. Of Pakistan’s four provinces, the NWFP, whose population is mainly Pakhtun, is considered among the most conservative where women are seen as second-class citizens. According to Naz, most female journalists work in the ‘Dawn’ media group in Pakistan's financial capital Karachi.
Sadia Qasim Shah of 'Dawn' newspaper said that with Aneela’s election, female journalists now have symbolic representation in the Khyber journalists’ union. “Our number is far lesser than male journalists, but Aneela’s election will create gender balance. Our problem will get to the limelight,” she said. According to Shah, she does not see fundamentalist militants like the Taliban, as a threat to women journalists because no female reporter has ever been targeted. At the same time, she added that Shaheen's election might be a small step but can bring about big changes in finding solutions to problems faced by women journalists. “It is extremely encouraging and will lead to empowerment of women journalists in this part of the country,” Shahida Parveen, a reporter of 'Express' newspaper, said. Her election is a welcome sign because it has set in motion the opportunity for women to get into the mainstream of journalistic politics, she added. “The unflinching support I have been receiving is a manifestation of immense trust from colleagues, which gives me strength to fight for their rights,” said Shaheen. Among her priorities include working for the provision of life insurance to journalists, creating job security and ensuring their protection in the workplace, as well as creating a conducive working environment for them. She also wants to see the establishment of a fund for journalists killed while covering conflict areas, and increase capacity-building activities.
“My plans are to organise training courses for local journalists to raise their capacity. We plan to invite senior journalists to Peshawar to impart much-needed training to them,” she says. In addition, she wants to see permanent and long-term planning for “the capacity enhancement of journalists and introduction of short courses at university levels for media workers". “I will try to bring to journalism as many women as possible. Today, we have six females of the total 320 members, which is extremely few,” Shaheen says. She adds that females are often reluctant to take up this profession due to the attitude of the male colleagues. "But with my election, it has become evident that people are now accepting females as journalists." “I am fully confident that my catapulting to the electoral post would encourage other women to come forward and join the profession of journalism and lead the media persons in the journalist unions throughout the country,” she said. According to Shaheen, 10 journalists have been killed in NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan in the so-called U.S.-led 'war on terror' campaign. The Taliban, in the wake of the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, crossed over to Pakistan from Afghanistan after their government was topped by U.S.-led coalition forces. They took refuge along the 2,400-kilometre porous Pakistan-Afghanistan border in FATA. “The causes of the journalists' deaths are yet to be investigated. There is a deep sense of insecurity among journalists,” Shaheen explains. Syed Bukhar Shah, president-elect of the KhUJ, said Shaheen’s election is an encouraging sign given the participation of women in politics. Woman political leader Begum Nasim Wali Khan was elected to the National Assembly on general seat in 1977.
Added Naz: “Well done Khyber Union of Journalists for taking a lead in encouraging women and proving that women have equal chances in all fields.”

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