Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s (KP) traditional setup is perceived to have placed cultural pressure on women both at home and while pursuing a profession. That being said, women in KP have proven themselves strong and are demonstrating their mettle in every field. Similarly, KP women, like other provinces, are determined to enter various professions, even the ones, which were once considered a man’s job. One such profession is journalism and KP’s women are smashing the so-called “glass ceiling” and setting benchmarks in this particular field.
Nadia Saboohi has been working in this field since 1997. She also worked as a correspondent at Geo News, Peshawar and is currently reporting for Jang, Rawalpindi. When Geo News was launched in 2002, she was amongst the first females who were hired to work as a journalist in KP. While sharing her journey, she said, “It was my own choice to work on hard news. The reason being that I wanted to do everything that a male journalist could and I felt strong enough to compete with men in this field. It depends on a woman’s psyche that she assumes herself weak or strong, and her attitude in the profession will create an opinion about her.”
Adding to this she said, “When I entered the field I was blank but attended different workshops to polish myself. The workshops were for journalists and were organized by foreigners to train young journalists.” Nadia Saboohi also reported incidents that took place in Waziristan and FATA, she encountered Talibanization in her career but nothing pulled her spirit down as a journalist.
Another senior female journalist, Aneela Shaheen, has been working in the field for 21 years and is presently associated with News 360 as a correspondent from KP. She became the first female general secretary of Khyber Union of Journalists and the first female senior vice president of Peshawar Press Club (PPC). While sharing her struggle as a female journalist she said: “Undoubtedly there are obstacles for women in media, but with courage and dedication, no goal is small. Female reporters are perceived to be weak and feeble and they are usually asked to report on soft issues, but I always pursued to report on hard issues, i.e., politics. I wanted to prove that women can also report accurately on hard issues.” She fulfilled her professional responsibility as a female journalist during the military operation in Swat.
Aneela Shaheen left a government job to pursue her passion for journalism. “Women should not lose heart as with each passing day the situation of news dissemination is getting worse. Just like other fields, women in journalism do face challenging situations but they should fight to sort them out.”
The persistent social and cultural norms tend to restrict female journalists in the domain of soft stories. Yet brave female journalists of KP are at the forefront of reporting conflicts and covering terrorism.
Farzana Ali, who is among the few brave female journalists in KP, is the first female to become the Bureau Chief of Aaj News in Peshawar. She says, “Hailing from Syed family in Dera Ismail Khan, it was nearly impossible for any woman to pursue a career in media. Despite the hurdles, I started my career as a journalist in 1997, because there was no one to report on the violation of women and human rights in my area. I wanted to become the voice of the voiceless but from a platform so that it could reach out to the masses.”
She further added, “When you criticize the pseudo-self-constructed traditions of a male dominant society, the backlash is mandatory. I stood firm and after a constant struggle of many years, I became the Bureau Chief of Aaj News in 2012. Despite working at a high-ranking position, I have seen that the condition for women in journalism still leaves a lot to be desired. The laws made to protect women at the workplace and then specifically in journalism are still restricted to paper only.”
Shazia Nisar, another senior reporter from ARY News, shares: “Bureau chiefs keep female journalists away from the risks by excluding them from doing stories in tribal areas. The risk for men and women is the same. The discrimination in assigning the stories depends on gender and women are considered unconvincing.” She added that it was her own choice to work on hard news and she will continue to break these taboos. “I love my work. I have reported on drone attacks, worked in backward areas like Swat and covered plenty of terrorist incidents and crime specifically on missing persons and nothing could make me step back and regret my choice,” she added.
Shaista Hakim, the first female journalist from Swat, has been working as a journalist for nine years. She has worked with several media outlets including Khyber News, Tribal News Network and Radio Pakistan. She says, “Journalism in Swat is massively dominated by men. I was a college student when one day it was announced that a military operation is going to commence against the Taliban and that people are requested to go to safer areas. There I saw the elderly and children displaced under difficult circumstances, which motivated me to become a journalist.”
She added, “I have been covering the entire Malakand division, Chitral and Swat just like my male colleagues but even in this century sometimes I am looked down upon as a journalist because of my gender.”
Sameera Latif, a young female journalist from Dera Ismail Khan, is the first female journalist from her area. She is currently running a web channel, Independent Woman. Ms. Latif said, “I am the first female who paved way for other young girls of the region to become journalists. It is my passion to work for the vulnerable segment of the society and raise the voice of deprived people. However, it was equally difficult for me to come out and pursue my dream in Dera Ismail Khan. Even then, I do not hesitate to interview people and break taboos. I believe that no field is difficult for women if they remain determined. I remained firm on my stance and never gave up despite the social and cultural barriers. I wanted to do something special for my community and so I laid the foundation of female citizen journalism in Dera Ismail Khan and the people who used to point fingers at me and my work are now appreciating my efforts.”
To be a journalist and that too a female in a traditionally conservative society requires one to be courageous, tenacious and passionate. The issues with female journalists in the field still exist but due to the changing circumstances and new developments, people are accepting women in media. Many female journalists have made the path less difficult for young females in this profession and women like, Farzana Ali, Nadia Saboohi, Aneela Shaheen, Shazia Nisar, Shaista Hakim and Sameera Latif are role models for not only girls in KP but for all girls in Pakistan. HH
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