Lubna Jerar Naqvi: "Media organisations and unions need to have a specified number of leading positions reserved for women"

Lubna Jerar Naqvi is a member of the Executive Committee of the Karachi Union of Journalists (Pakistan). She talks with us about women's situation in the country and her personal experience.

credit: Lubna

How would you describe the situation of women in media in your own country? What are the challenges they face reaching top level positions?

In recent years Pakistan has seen a rise in women entering the media - which is a positive change. Despite a high level of misogyny and chauvinism in the society, men are understanding that media is not their domain and they are making room – although very slowly – and accepting women doing jobs that were once considered to be gender based.

However, despite the higher number of women in the media and constantly entering the field, there are very few women who hold positions in which they can take decisions themselves. The few that hold such positions do so either because they own the media group or are working in their family’s organization. Despite this they still face a lot of pressure and resistance; decisions that men would take easily, sometimes is achieved with more work by the women

Sometimes women face issues while making decision like reluctance of others to take them seriously. I have had to spend more time trying to ‘womanplain’ simple things fortunately due to many such sessions now the men I deal with at work and in the union understand that I mean business. It was tough to gain their ‘trust’ and ‘respect’ and now they believe that I can get some tasks done.

As a woman who reached a leadership position, have you faced any obstacle because of your gender? If yes, which ones?

I didn’t have any problem to reach a leadership position in the union, I was kind of lucky there. And I have been fortunate that the team I have worked with in the union is quite open to discuss issues with their women colleagues in the union.

Having said that, there is still a lot of room for women to take on tougher leadership positions in the union, and the workplace. As for my experience in the workplace, I feel women are skeptical when it comes to reaching out to women leaders when they need help and often prefer to talk to the male leadership. Women leaders need to develop trust with the women in the media as well as the men and prove that they are equally capable in leadership positions. The journey has just begun and we have a long way to go.

What are the consequences of the lack of women in managing positions in media?

The lack of women in managing positions in media affects the lot of the majority of the women working in the industry. Strategies to improve the basic working conditions and provision of basic rights are lost because they are not considered important by those taking the decisions. This leads to decisions being delayed on important issues like maternity leave; leave with pay ; timely promotions and salary increments ; equal salary ; sexual harassment cases ; job security etc.

How can we solve this situation? Considering your personal experience, what would you suggest to reach gender equality in media? 

Media organizations and unions need to have a specified number of leading positions reserved for women – at least in the beginning to get them into the positions – in the company. The government should ask for a yearly audit of the number of women who have been given leading positions and also track the promotion of the bulk of women in the organization yearly. These reserved positions need to be competitive so that those taking position are not questioned for their abilities and capabilities.

What could be the role of men journalists and media leaders in this process? 

Media leaders and men journalists should not for one make it easy for the women, because they are not doing them a favour. The women journalists are capable of holding their own despite the pressures – and we all know they have faced more than their fair share – what the men journalists and media leaders can do is not put any extra pressure on them than is required for the job.

With more women in the media, women in decision making position will be the inevitable future. But we need them now as much as later and so media houses should open a position without specifying the gender requirements and we can take it from there.

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