Two massive obstacles loom over women in the press. The first is a skewed gender ratio in the industry, and the second (an inevitable fallout of speed journalism), an absence of a mentor system. In her career-span of 15 years, senior journalist Rituparna Chatterjee has witnessed both first hand. It was several conversations with fellow journalists that lead her launch the #Sisterhood initiative over Twitter, a creative attempt to remedy the two problems.
Not only does it encourage a deeper interaction between experienced editors and newcomers, it focuses primarily on women. And with good reason. Regarding New Delhi, one of the nation’s biggest media hubs, Chatterjee tells YKA, “There is whisper network of boys at Khan Market, Connaught Place or Press Club. And women are completely outside the circle.” She also ruminates on the fact that vacancies and recommendations are reserved exclusively for these watering holes. Now, where does this leave the women? Chatterjee continues, “Some women might not want to get a drink with [their] editor, and why should they have to to get plum jobs? Good for the women who do, but what about the ones who have children, who have duties, who can’t hang around at 11 o’clock at night?”
And that’s where #Sisterhood comes in. So how does it work? Here it is in her own words:
— Rituparna Chatterjee (@MasalaBai) July 16, 2018
By the next morning, there were 250 messages in her inbox! Chatterjee says she’s no middleman, and she’s no Naukri.com, but she did mastermind a new kind of mentor system using Twitter’s colossal user base. “This is not my hashtag,” she clarifies. “This is your hashtag, so own it.” And, boy, have people owned it! “Last week,” she continues, “one person wrote back saying she got a job in Delhi!” And there are potential mentors too who have joined in. For example, a Supreme Court lawyer and columnist offered his help to anyone who wants to write legal copy.
In the ‘90s, the Statesman building in Calcutta was a conduit into the world of journalism for 14-year-old Chatterjee. She fondly remembers earning her pocket money here, once getting paid Rs. 500 for a full page story. It’s labyrinthine passages and smoke-filled newsrooms became her second home right up till her graduation, until shifting base to the Press Trust of India the “military boot camp for journalists.” But she is acutely aware of how few women share a similar trajectory.
From the time Homai Vyarawala picked up her camera in the ‘30s, till now, there is still a disproportionately lower. In a 2014 study of four Indian English newspapers, Newslaundry found that only 27% of the content was written by women. Another shocking find was that women were paid 20% less than men.
Recalling something a friend once told her, she quips, “All newsrooms right now want a 25-year-old with a 30-year-old’s experience.” It’s an unacceptable reality, but one that Chatterjee hopes to change. The requests she gets on Twitter come from beginners with one or two years’ of experience, and the goal of #Sisterhood is to stand them in good stead.