By Bhavna Mittal:
Taking up a career in journalism comes with its own set of risks- covering conflict, disaster, civil unrest, corruption and terror is no simple work. The reporters and journalists live the news that we watch and read in the comforts of our living rooms.
Needless to say it’s a profession for the brave and the passionate, being a female journalist requires her to be all this and most essentially- Tolerant- tolerant of the sexism, tolerant of the groping, tolerant of the sexual innuendos.
In a number of communities- Journalism isn’t considered an apt professional choice for women. As long as she’s writing for a women’s magazine it’s all good but God forbid if she attempts to venture into the Man’s World of reporting live from the front lines. Despite such perceptions there are those who dare to venture into this field only to receive a raw deal.
The report on ‘Status of Women Journalists in India’ commissioned by the National Commission for Women (NCW) showed that women are still considered the weaker sex in this field. It’s difficult for a woman journalist to find a permanent job; she is underpaid and is usually the first to be sacked when it comes to downsizing. Treatment is particularly harsh for women working for local languages daily.
You’d think that this ill treatment is just a national issue but the sad truth is that women journalists all over the world are fighting gender bias every day. A woman reporter has the burden of always looking good else she can say goodbye to the anchor position. In certain countries it becomes difficult for her to gain access to sources as most are uncomfortable opening up to a woman. Even when she gets access it isn’t uncommon for an interviewee to treat her like a sex object or find it amusing that a woman is here to talk to him about politics or business strategies.
For a female to rise in this industry she has to be twice as good as her male colleagues are and even when she gets the promotion, her colleagues consider it below them to be answerable to a woman. The male bonding at the office continues with the woman being the constant outsider.
Another pervading issue is that of sexual harassment, that exists both within the office and in the field. Lara Logan’s story has brought this issue to the forefront. There she was at the Tahrir Square on Feb 11, 2011 doing her job- covering celebrations following the resignation of Mubarak but there was nothing euphoric about what happened to her that day. She was surrounded and groped by a group of men before being rescued. A compilation of forty essays on this issue waspublished this International Women’s Day called “No Woman’s Land – On the Frontlines with Female Reporters.”
“I can’t feel them anymore. Their hands. The tearing. It is just the memory,” writes Logan in the opening pages. “But that’s enough. The memory and everything that comes with it.”
Her story got media coverage but there are thousands of women just like her whose stories go unanswered. In fact it’s not uncommon for women to hide such incidents because they fear that if they come forward it will harm their careers in the long run, they will lose good stories and kept away from the front-lines.
So she treads on, she endures. But it’s time things changed, it’s time the world of media paid heed to its own women. She deserves a safe and non-biased environment to work in. Doesn’t the media exist to promote freedom and human rights? Why doesn’t that dictum apply to their female employees?
Yes, the risks of reporting live from certain countries will continue to exist but a little spring cleaning within the office to dust off old prejudices can go a long way in helping the female journalists the world over gain a small share of respect they duly deserve.