Nepal | December 15, 2019

Plight of female journalists: Still fighting the odds

Sarah Rai

Only a handful of women have been assigned leadership roles in media organisations. But even those who are lucky enough to reach there have fought hard for equal pay and benefits with their male counterparts

“Whenever I made my pitch in the newsroom, the look on the faces of my male colleagues reeking with skepticism and disapproval suffocated me,” said a senior journalist as we spoke over an informal dinner interaction after a full-day workshop.

It was a cathartic experience for me listening to the experiences of female journalists under one roof. It felt like it was more than just our work that was common between us – our challenges. I closely related with everything that was shared by the speakers and fellow attendees, and so I decided, I wanted to do a Voxpop (Voice of the people) story to highlight the everyday common struggles of Nepali women in journalism.

Women in most sectors, if not all, have been victims of patriarchal treatment and misogyny. Women are expected to act, speak and react in a certain way wherever we go. Our movements, decisions and even our opinions are often conditioned by patriarchal beliefs. Astha KC, 35, who’s worked in more than five media organisations and is currently working as a sub-editor at Left Review Online, said that it’s quite common to see men trying to influence, manipulate or harass women at the workplace. Given her 13-year-long experience in journalism, she said that this was particularly prevalent in the media sector.

Family and community members, neighbours and even colleagues scrutinise and victimise women journalists as they are often compelled to work late hours or share vehicles with the male colleagues. Another participant, Gagan Shila Khadka from Gulmi, who stepped into journalism at a young age, said there were numerous instances when her male colleagues tried to make sexual advances. Her colleagues once also spread rumours that she had eloped when she was actually attending a 15-day fellowship programme in the capital.

Very few studies have been carried out regarding the status of women journalists in Nepal. Based on a report released by Sancharika Samuha Nepal (SSN) in 2072 B.S., almost one third of the 1,143 surveyed female journalists changed their organisation due to low wages, and lack of opportunities, motivation and encouragement.

“I was the only female reporter doing a mainstream beat. No wonder I was denied bylines, opportunities for professional growth and skill development trainings,” said Saraswotee Karmacharya, who has handled the foreign affairs, political and social beat for various national TV channels and been in the sector for 19 years. When I met Saraswotee at the workshop, she had just left her third TV channel due to lack of growth prospects. She recounted, “One of the channels I worked for did not even provide contracts to its employees.”

Shilpa Karna, another reporter originally from Sarlahi, has been practising journalism for five years now. “Low and untimely pay is widespread in journalism,” she said, and added, “majority of media institutions in Nepal make you work long hours but pay proportionately less.”

Lack of professional security is also one of the top reasons for women opting out of journalism. A mother of two, Astha KC, who is originally from Dang, added that her salary is not even enough to eke out a living for herself and her children. Hence, she has to juggle between her full-time job and freelance work for extra income.

Furthermore, there are only a handful of women who have been assigned leadership roles in media organisations. But even those who are lucky enough to reach there have fought hard for equal pay and benefits with their male counterparts. As per SSN’s report, only 2.9 per cent of the surveyed women journalists in Nepal were found to be bureau chiefs or senior editors in mainstream media. It’s hard to find women chief editors even in top media institutions of Nepal.

While carrying out assignments, women journalists often become easy targets for physical threats and abuse. Bidhya Rai, 23, a participant at the workshop said, “Female journalists have an added challenge to face at the moment in the form of physical threats through social media. This has a profound effect on one’s mental state.” Bidhya had received numerous death threats on her twitter feed for her reportings. The surge in social media use has on one hand provided journalists with a bigger audience, but at the same time, opened a platform for others to abuse journalists, especially women.

Bidhya further states that the newsroom lacks a female-friendly setup. They have little control over organisational resources like vehicles and equipment, resources to meet their special needs and opportunities to upgrade their professional skills.

Senior journalist Babita Basnet, who carries three decades of experience in this field, adds that while men still have the luxury to focus on one job and excel in it, majority of women journalists are busy struggling to strike a balance between their professional career and running their households. She wants the younger generation of women journalists to make the best use of technology and enhance their professional skills.

While the sector needs to be more welcoming of women journalists, we women journalists too have to work hard to compete for professional growth. Women need to further their skills by pursuing relevant academic courses and raise their capacity.

A version of this article appears in print on November 22, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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