Women in media in Bangladesh

by Pervez Bubul
Oct 30, 2018 in Diversity and Inclusion

This article originally appeared in The Daily Star on August 8.

Women have been doing noteworthy work as journalists in Bangladesh as well as elsewhere during the last decade. But their number in both print and electronic media in our country is less than expected. We need to recognize the challenges and explore the opportunities for women to encourage them.

American journalist Mary Temple Bayard wrote in her article on women in journalism: "The newspaper is the educator of the public, and men and women who write in newspapers have the best opportunities for creating public opinion. They know their colleagues of the other sex watch them with an attention naturally critical, but not always sympathetic; neither is there a royal road especially prepared or made smooth for either sex. A fair field and no favour must suffice for women in journalism. There is no claim to be set forward on the basis of sex. Women who have succeeded in journalism have succeeded as journalists and not as women, and this along the same lines on which men have succeeded."

Women journalists of our country said recently in a workshop that unfair treatment discouraged women in journalism. Recognition of their work and better wages are needed to encourage female journalists to stay in the profession. Experts said that women's participation in journalism, in both electronic and print media, marked a rise in the last couple of years, but most of them give up the profession for various problems.

Women journalists identified stereotyped attitudes, unfair treatment, harassment by male colleagues and job insecurity as the reasons that prompted them to give up the profession. Prof Dr. Gitiara Nasreen of Dhaka University's Mass Communication and Journalism Department said: "Socio-cultural factors play an important role in advancing or hindering women's access to journalism. Despite the rise in number of women journalists in last few years, only 4% women stay in the mainstream of journalism."

The speakers pointed out that females were paid less as compared to male colleagues in some media houses, and they worked under immense social pressure and mobility problems. Participants urged removal of gender imbalance in media, and said that there was a need to provide women with equal opportunities as enjoyed by men. Female journalists should be encouraged to work on hard beats, which are reserved for male journalists.

Shanta Maria, a radio journalist, told me that women were looked down upon by some male colleagues, and that sports, economic and political beats were not assigned to women in some media houses. Women are not given assignments out of Dhaka. Electronic media is a bit more liberal in this issue than print media. Shanta added that opportunities were available in journalism and women were overcoming the odds and doing well, but they had to go through testing times.

Nasimun Ara Huq, president of Nari Sangbadik Kendra (Centre for women Journalists) once invited me to attend a feature-writing workshop. I observed that women were eager to work in media, and they had talent and were able to cover beats like men.

I suggested the formation of a forum of women writers of Saarccountries to get more journalists and writers from these countries. She agreed and formed the forum accordingly. I congratulate her for pro-activeness, and for exploring ways for women to join journalism.

Journalist Sultana Rahman works in an electronic media house. She said: "Women are responsible and sincere. As a woman, I have an advantage in collecting news from any person, group or institution. So, I take the responsibility and do my assigned job very sincerely, so that no one can define my reporting as 'woman's reporting.' I must get recognition as a journalist, without considering the gender. I encourage more women to join journalism and accept the challenges because I believe that journalism is a profession particularly for women."

Journalist Farhana Milly works in the print medium, and is hopeful of seeing women taking journalism as a profession, though it is not as same as now as it was ten years back. In addition, newspapers should give the same pay to women journalists as they give to the men for same jobs, Milly added.

Women journalists of Bangladesh do not face the same challenges their counterparts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, and war-affected countries in Africa do. We should train the women journalists of our country not only to cover the local and national news, but also to cover the news of whole world.

In this age of information, people are interested in getting news of different issues of different countries of the world at a time through different media. That is why I think that, to face the challenges of globalisation, women representatives of the media must be global representatives as they have to represent the globe directly or indirectly.

In spite of great improvements achieved by and for women in journalism many problems remain, which must be addressed by journalists' unions at national, regional and global levels. journalists' organisations have to reform their own structures to ensure female representation in the union's policy-making and governing bodies.

The number of women journalists is on the rise in most countries. The percentage of women in journalism ranges from around 50% in Finland, Thailand or Mexico to as low as around 6% in Sri Lanka or Togo. The average percentage of women journalists is 38%. An IFJ survey ten years ago found an average of 27% women journalists. But the number of women in decision-making positions in the media is still shockingly low. Even though women represent more than a third of working journalists around the world, the percentage of women editors, heads of departments or media owners is only 0.6%.

In 1951, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted the Equal Remuneration Convention No.100, which is one of the fundamental ILO conventions. ILO conventions are international treaties, and once a country ratifies a convention it is obliged to implement it in national law and practice.

The Convention sets out that men and women workers must receive equal remuneration for work of equal value without discrimination based on sex. It obliges member states to establish this right through national law or collective agreements. Rebecca West, a British journalist and author said: "Journalism is the ability to meet the challenge of filling space."

Parvez Babul is Convener of Bangladesh Climate Change Journalists Forum, and author of the book: Women's Empowerment, Food Security and Climate Change. Email: parvezbabul@yahoo.com.