April issue 2012

By | Society | Published 12 years ago

In celebration of Women’s Day, the White Ribbon Campaign Pakistan (WRCP) and the Women’s Empowerment Group (WEG), with the support of the British High Commission, held a conference in Islamabad on gender sensitivity in reporting on March 8. Journalists as well as representatives from NGOs were invited to the conference, during which the organisers also launched a code of ethics on gender sensitive reporting — a first of its kind in Pakistan.

The speakers included renowned journalists Quatrina Hosain, Mazhar Abbas and Asma Shirazi, as well as foreign dignitaries from Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands. Hosain and Shirazi spoke at length about their experiences as women in the media, whereas Mazhar Abbas talked about the importance of safety regulations for journalists, especially when they venture into war zones.

The British High Commissioner, Adam Thomson, provided some harrowing statistics on female mortality, malnutrition and illiteracy in Pakistan. To his credit, he also talked about the gender gap in Britain and how the fight for women’s rights is a universal struggle and not just limited to developing countries.

Omer Aftab, the national coordinator of WRCP, spoke about public perceptions regarding women’s rights in Pakistan and quoted a recent survey, which found that around 70% of men in Lahore thought it acceptable to slap a woman. Aftab highlighted the importance of involving men in the campaign for women’s rights. His thoughts corresponded with the banners in the conference room emblazoned with slogans such as ‘Strong Men are Gentlemen.’ Quatrina Hosain also reiterated this sentiment in her speech and said that one should try to transcend the gender boundary, not break it, and that the fight for women’s rights need not be turned into a battle of the sexes.

At times the speeches did stray away from the issue of gender sensitivity in reporting at times and some of the panelists spoke more about the general state of women or the media in Pakistan. Asma Shirazi helped steer the conversation back to the topic at hand when she spoke of how journalists should exercise caution while interviewing rape or sexual harassment victims and avoid asking insensitive questions.

This article was originally published in the April 2012 issue of Newsline under the headline “A Step Forward.” Look out for the latest issue of Newsline at newsstands across Pakistan.

Zehra Nabi is a graduate student in The Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University. She previously worked at Newsline and The Express Tribune.