A look into the reasons why female presence is so low in the Bangladeshi media sector.
Even though there is no recent statistics on how many female journalists are active in Bangladesh, it seems that not much has changed since 1987 when there were 900 male journalists compared to only 34 female journalists.
Bdnews24 has looked at the reasons why female presence is so low in the Bangladeshi media sector. Again and again similar reasons are discovered for why women choose to leave their jobs. Pressure from family, parental leave, wage discrimination and sexual harassment present some of issues that needs to be dealt with.
What is holding female journalists back?
Written by Most. Ummay Habiba, Reporter, bdnews24.com
Media in Bangladesh is now much wider than before, but still participation from women is negligible. Many women journalists start with courage, take the challenging profession by choice, for a piece of information want to go wherever necessary, but still, not all sustain and they drop-out for various reasons.
There is no official statistics about women journalists. A Press Institute of Bangladesh (PIB) survey from 1987 says, in Dhaka there were nine hundred male journalists in two hundred forty-one newspapers, in contrary number of women journalists was 34 only. Then the percentage of women journalist was only 4.
In three decades, number of media houses rose to three thousand 263 according to a government statement in the parliament.
The Dhaka sub-editor’s council and Dhaka Reporters’ Unity list finds the number of male journalists is two thousand four hundred thirty-two (87%) and the number of female journalists has risen to three hundred ten (13%).
In Bangladesh women entered into the field of media in 50s. Some renowned female journalists of that era are Laila Samad, Rajia Khan Amin, Foyeza Haque, Mafruha Chowdhury and Nasimun Ara Haque. But even after seven decades participation of women has not increased significantly.
The BDNEWS24 investigation found out the reasons behind women’s poor presence in media including lack of women friendly work environment, pressure from the family, maternity and childcare, gender and wages discrimination, sexual harassment, so on and so forth.
When asked, gender specialist Ferdousi Sultana told BDNEWS24.com, “Journalism is not like government job and opportunities are not enough, that’s why rate of drop-outs is high among women.”
The editor of the United News Agency of Bangladesh Mahfuzur Rahman said, “Women are not interested in journalism as they find it challenging. Moreover, they prefer desk jobs than reporting.”
Working environment is not female friendly:
The special correspondent of a private TV channel Ekattor, Farzana Rupa considers gender insensitive environment as the main obstacle for women in media.
“In fact, the character of newsroom is not women friendly,” Farzana observed while talking to the BDNEWS24.com, adding, “I started my day at eight in the morning, worked throughout the day and will go back home at around 1.30 am or 2 am.”
“Under this circumstances day care centre, an arrangement to stay organised, a clean washroom and a breastfeeding corner are the facilities that women in media require, but the newsrooms have none,” Farzana couldn’t hide her resentment.
The section 94/(1) of chapter eight in the Bangladesh Labor Law states, “In every establishments where 40 or more female workers are ordinarily employed, one or more suitable rooms shall be provided and maintained for the use of their children who are under the age of six years.”
Answering a question on this, the chief news editor of a private TV channel ‘Channel I’ Zahid Newaj Khan said, as the number of female journalists is not very high in media houses, the idea of day care centre hasn’t received enough attention.
But Mansura Hussain has a different view on this. She said, “Why on earth people do think only women need day care centres? Even fathers in the workplace can seize the opportunity of keeping their kids in day care centres and can work comfortably.”
Discriminatory work place
Former journalist of the daily Janakantha Nasimun Ara Haque complained that female reporters experience various types of discrimination in media outlets.
She was talking to the BDNEWS24.com.
“When a female worker does any mistake, that mistake is considered to be a very big one and presented as inefficiency on the part of that woman journalist, but a male journalist is never judged in this way,” Nasimun said.
Many newspapers do not follow wage board that is fixed by the government. And here again women suffer more, Nasimun observed.
According to a research by Article 19, female journalists face gender-driven discrimination and censorship. Around 65 percent female reporters face hurdles in either writing or publishing a report.
Some female reporters complained they are not assigned to cover big events of their own beat. Authorities in such situation prefer male reporters.
But Zahid Newaj Khan didn’t agree with this statement. He said, “No, nobody thinks of gender while assigning a major event, only efficiency of a reporter is considered.”
But, Sumon Mahbub, senior reporter of the BDNEWS24.com says, in some cases colleagues have to think of their female colleague’s safety in a really risky situation.
The feature editor of the Amader Samoy, Shanta Maria said, newsrooms are mostly male dominant. There are few female journalists in the policy level.
“We have at least 30 female journalists as high-ups or policy makers in media houses. But the number should be higher than this,” Shanta commented.
Maternity and family
Crime reporters’ job is a 24 hours job. Despite the editor’s objection a female reporter took this beat. But once she gave birth to a child, she had left her favourite beat.
“I can’t work as intensively as I have done before. My husband stays out of Dhaka and I need to be extra cautious about the baby. I can’t go out anytime I am required as I used to go before in search of news. So I had to give up.”
The president of Nari Sangbadik Kendra Nasimun Ara said, she knows one female journalist who has lost job for demanding maternity leave.
She said, “Her father was a renowned journalist. She asked for maternity leave and the authority terminated her, bringing some other charges. She changed her profession. There are many more examples.”
The chief news editor of a private TV channel `News24’, Shahnaj Munni said, support from the office and family is equally required for woman to sustain in her career in the media.
“Because females have some special needs and you cannot follow the clock all the time, sometimes families do not want to understand the nature of this job. Often, they say why isn’t it a 9am-5pm job? Leave job,” Shahnaj Munni said.
Apart from those who work in TV channels, female journalists do not get the transport facility. Some experience different types of harassments in the public transports and become frustrated.
Nasimun Ara said, “I think female reporters didn’t get and don’t get transport support properly. But it’s a safety and security issue. We have raised this issue, we had movements but we couldn’t resolve the problem.”
Mithila Habib Nazneen is working for the Channel I. She said, it’s easier for a male journalist than a female to get into a crowd defying jostle.
“Sometimes people intentionally make crowd, try to harass or tease,” she said.
Farzana Rupa told BDNEWS24.com that, female reporters experience all sorts of discrimination from sexual harassment in the newsroom.
A research from Article 19 says, 40 percent female journalists face sexual harassment and they have never protested against such behaviour in fear of losing job.
But, in some places female journalists got justice. It happened in an internet-based news media house. One female journalist experienced unwanted touch from a little known male colleague. She lodged complaint and that colleague was terminated.
But examples are few, said Nasimun Ara Haque. She told the story without mentioning the name of the victim who is working with a private TV channel.
She said, “one day her boss told please come to my home today after office hours, your sister-in-law is not there today. She could understand what he meant, at the same time she understood she might not save her job after raising this issue against her boss. So she decided to leave job.”
The high court on May 15, 2009 issued some directives including formation of a complaint cell comprising five members in all academic institutions and offices to stop sexual harassment. But not a single media house has followed that order.
Mansura Hossain of the daily Prothom Alo said, “We have our own guideline to stop sexual harassment, but no, it’s not fully complying the HC directives.”
Regarding absence of such committee Zahid Newaj Khan said, “There is no incident of sexual harassment, and they (female journalists) have not complained if any such incident has ever occurred. That’s why we do not have such committee.”