First National Conference Report

<font size="3">EU-India Project: Building Paths to Equality in Journalism </font>

<font size="3">First National Conference</font>

February 13, 2006, New Delhi

The First National Conference of the EU-India Project, 'Building Paths to Equality in Journalism', co-ordinated by the International Federation of Journalists and part of the European Commission’s EU-India Economic Cross-cultural Programme for India, took place in New Delhi, India, on February 13, 2006. It brought together union leaders, women union members, particularly members of the first project mission to Europe, European partners representatives and project staff from Brussels and Delhi. The purpose of the conference was to report on and evaluate the results of the Survey of Women Journalists in India and of the first mission to Europe, as well as to discuss the aims of the project and make plans for their implementation.

The agenda included speeches from: 

  • Pamela Moriniere, IFJ Gender Project Officer, who updated the audience about the work of the project so far and forthcoming activities this year 
  • Parul Sharma, India Project Coordinator, presenting the report on the “Survey of Women Journalists in India” by AINEF 
  • Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ partner representative, who was speaking on the position of women in modern European society 
  • Annegret Witt-Barthel, DJV partner representative, who gave a presentation on Women journalists in European unions 
  • Madan Phadnis, President of AINEF, spoke about women in Indian unions, with special reference to newspaper unions 

The women delegates who shared their impressions of the mission to Europe in the previous week, visiting Brussels, Berlin and London

1. Reports by Indian Women Participants

1.1 Report on survey - discrimination in the media and in unions

In her introductory speech Parul Sharma analysed the discrimination of women workers in India and the important role of unions with regard to gender equality. She pointed out that women’s discriminations - such as inequality in salary, promotions, harassment, risks of unemployment - must be a major priority of unions. Since unions are expected to prioritise gender equality in the labour market they have to tackle two major obstacles. On one hand they need guaranteed “freedom of association and the right to organize and to bargain collectively”, on the other hand the unions themselves must prioritise women’s rights and equality e.g. by participation and promotion of women into decision-making positions in the unions. Because “the fundamental rationale is that an individual woman does not possess sufficient socio-economic power”, empowerment is essential, Parul Sharma said. She mentioned in particular women’s guaranteed right to freedom of association and right to organize, efforts by the trade unions to promote and to protect interests of women workers and women’s involvement in collective bargaining. In reference to the “Survey of Women Journalists in India Report” she recommended guidelines for reviewing protective measures for women workers concerning issues such as social security, reconciliation of work and family, equal opportunities and payment.

1.2 Reports by members of first mission to Europe

The reports and the discussion of the mission members impressions and reflections on their visit to Europe were a major point of the conference. They all had noticed that there were some similarities in the structure of problems for women journalists, such as unequal pay, reconciliation of work and family, under-representation in leading positions in the media and in the unions. But all mission members emphasized that the women in the unions in UK and in Germany had gender councils, women conferences, quota recommendations and other means to promote equality. Whilst it is fair to say that gender equality is on unions’ agendas and women increasingly play a more important role in union hierarchy, from the European point of view, the mission members overestimated the achievements of gender equality in European unions. Undoubtedly, however, there are some good experiences to share. Some mission members felt sorry for European women journalists who felt forced to choose between work and family, because they are not sufficiently supported in the reconciliation of children and career.

Delhi-based journalist Aasha Khosa, a special correspondent on The Indian Express and participant in the mission to Europe, made a very moving speech to the conference in which she described how countless careers of women journalists in India have been “sacrificed on the altar of motherhood.” She summed up many of the problems facing women journalists – at home, in the workplace, as well as in their unions - and appealed to the President of AINEF for help in tackling these issues.

“The visit to Europe has triggered a lot of thoughts in us. It has fired our imagination. Women in Europe have the same problems. But the difference is that here in India, we are talking about them in drawing rooms. There, they are able to speak out, they’ve a forum to discuss the special problems facing women. They have gender councils. Men have ten ways to socialise with his seniors. Women don’t have the time to do all that, they have additional responsibilities at home. Maybe it’s not possible to have a gender council today, but we can in the future. We need to encourage more women to join, to bargain together. We are stuck. Yes we have basic equality in our constitution, there are role models in business and politics for us to aspire to. But what is the reality in journalism? Yes, we have equal rights but we have special needs. Society is listening to our friends in Europe, we need to find a voice too.

“I’d lost confidence in the unions before I came to Europe. But there too, they are facing the same problems with the pressure of globalisation. There’s a need to get together, to have collective bargaining. They’re even paying attention to journalistic ethics, to how women are portrayed in the media. And they don’t have an unorganised sector, the freelances are members too. We need to be doing this here. Let’s get help from them in organising. Like Europe, we need to be proactive to encourage men and women to join trade unions.”

The importance of women joining forces and bargaining collectively was an oft-repeated view by many of the women union members at the conference. They expressed particular concerns about the “unorganised sector”, the journalists working on contracts (many of whom are women) who are not union members in most cases and whose insecure positions make them unwilling to be seen to be involved in union campaigns.

K. R. Mangala, a sub-editor with Prajavani in Bangalore and participant in the delegation to Europe, spoke about the problems of advancing a career in journalism as a woman when you have to balance heavy domestic responsibilities. “Coming into the male sphere is a very daunting and complex task. Climbing the career ladder is much harder for the opposite sex. For married women, it’s all the more difficult. Our companies do not have babysitting facilities, there are few babysitters who will work after 6.30pm. Many women are not active in the union because they [the unions] are not active, they’re not taking up women’s issues. If women are to join hands with the unions, they’ll have to change their ways.”

2. Reports of European Experts

2.1 Status of women in modern Europe (Michelle Stanistreet, UK)

The speaker gave an overview of the position of women in European society – firstly making the point that this is something that differs considerably across Europe. Much progress has been made in advances in women’s rights and the fight for equality – since the creation of the EC, legislation has been passed to enshrine this in law, specifically guaranteeing equal pay and extending this more recently to cover all forms of sexual discrimination in the workplace. However in reality this can mean very little to many European women. Although some countries, such as Finland or Sweden, are much more geared up towards the needs of working families, in many parts of Europe the situation is far less family-friendly.

Gender stereotypes remain an issue, with many jobs inherently deemed to be “female” in nature – translating as poorly paid, in sectors such as factory work, catering, childcare. Whilst social patterns have changed away from the male-breadwinner model to one of dual-income families in much of Europe, the responsibilities of childcare and domestic duties largely fall to women. Like India, the UK’s Sex Discrimination Act is 30 years old. However, three decades on the pay gap in the UK is well and truly still in place. Women working full-time earn around 18 per cent less than men doing comparable jobs – for women working part-time that figure leaps to 40 per cent. Four out of five part time workers – 5.6million people, mostly women – are doing jobs that don’t use their potential, because flexible and part-time work is too often low-status and under paid. According to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, children seem to be at the root of this. Before having children, the average hourly wage for female workers is 91 per cent of the male average – this slumps to 67 per cent for working mums juggling jobs and childcare. And it never recovers – even when the children are older and in schools. The UK government is currently consulting on proposals to introduce a public sector duty to promote gender equality – commonly referred to as the “gender duty”. The Trade Unions Congress is campaigning to end the systemic two-tier pay structures which have a devastating knock-on effect for women pensioners in the UK.

Whilst UK legislation aimed at improving work-life balance, such as the 2003 flexible working law, is to be welcomed, it is not being taken up positively by many media employers, particularly in the newspaper sector. Pregnancy discrimination is a growing problem, and the NUJ’s Equality Council has just launched a survey to establish its true extent. In Europe, groups like the European Women’s Lobby are playing a key part in the fight against inequality. It was the view of the speaker that any improvements to be made in the arena of women’s rights and equality must be made through concerted collective action, uniting women across industries and countries – a process that the trade union movement must play a vital part in.

2.2 Women in European Unions (Annegret Witt-Barthel, Germany)

The speaker pointed out that the European Union’s enlargement and the economic crisis in Europe had forced a change in the media landscape and in the conditions of work and social security of journalists with an impact on women journalists. The media landscape had changed due to media imperialism of west European companies into Eastern European countries. The conditions for journalists have worsened due to outsourcing and freelancing instead of employments, cuts in social securities, cuts in wages and honoraries, rationalization or cuts in author’s rights. Unions are weakened as well, but they gain strength by acting European across the borders. They often state that there are more important issues than gender equality despite a feminisation of the profession (approximately 45% of journalists are women in the EFJ-affiliates). And from a women’s perspective equality is the crucial point to make a living. That’s why unions should prioritise gender policy.

There are two big issues of gender policy: Gender equality with the focus on women’s policy (e.g. equal pay, promotion by different means, access to trainings, quota systems) and family policy with the focus on reconciliation of work and family (e.g. flexitime, parental leave, childcare, non-discrimination of mothers). How can unions prioritise gender issues and improve the unionisation of women? There are good experiences made by lobbying for laws and collective bargaining. It is crucial to promote women’s participation in union activities, e.g. by improving their representation (quotas, councils), by promotions (trainings, mentoring, ombudsperson) or services (special counselling, networks, events).

As for collective bargaining on gender equality there are only few issues being covered (e.g. flexitime, childcare, promotion), because there are European and national laws regulating most of the issues mentioned before (e.g. equal pay). In the hierarchy of regulations the European laws set standards for national laws, which set standards for collective agreements. It must be said that despite legislation there is still inequality e.g. in payment. In the EU there is an average gap of 15%, in Germany there is a gap of 23% income. Paths to equality mean for union work: to lobby for laws, to prioritise gender issues and women’s unionisation, and to qualify/motivate unionists and works council in order to negotiate on behalf of gender equality.

3. Union Leadership, Women and Equality in the Union

3.1 Speeches of union leaders

AINEF president, Madan Phadnis, spoke about the dangers of women trying to rock the boat in pursuit of gender equality:

“This issue (of gender equality) is a double edged blade – you are making women work against men. You must know that. One must be very careful when walking on this floor of soap. Take other issues – you will have the support of men and women equally without this trouble.

“It is not true to say women are precluded from being part of the union. By all means, become president or secretary. Should women be given preference? The unity of the establishment will be jeopardised if women gain priority over men. Our struggle is for social reforms because the capitalist process tried to dominate us through their might and power, not for gender equality.” The President urged women to return to their workplaces and help their individual trade unions to grow and gain grassroots strength.

3.2 Discussion on equality in the union

Some delegates to the conference expressed concerns about equality within the union, calling for this to be an aim together with the broader issue of equality in the workplace. One delegate called for the unions to take proactive measures to campaign on issues that concern women members and to give women a greater voice within the union structure: “What about the problems we women are facing? Women are more reluctant to participate, more scared about victimisation by their employer. Yet the trade unions here have been obsolete for years. There needs to be more discussion and debate on these issues.”

The European partners reported on good experience with equal time limits for speakers. The reason to pay attention to this issue in the conference was the fact that the women were given a time limit of five minutes, whereas the men had no time limits for their speeches. It was suggested that any time limitation should apply to both male and female union members alike.

4. Conclusions for Project Arrangements

The next activity of the project takes place from 28 March to 1 April, and will consist of two workshops taking place in Delhi: 

- A 2-day seminar, Women in the Media. The agenda will be broad-ranging, including a panel discussion with women working with media organisations and NGOs; a workshop on leadership in the newsroom; a discussion on the portrayal of women in the media. Twenty women will take part in this course. 

-  A 3-day Collective Bargaining seminar. Designed to train participants in the principles of collective bargaining, including an introduction to Indian agreements, followed by a comparison with collective bargaining in Europe; trade union organising and recruitment; empowering women to get active in their union. The training programme will involve 30 participants, 10 men and 20 women.

List of participants

1. Indrani Raimedhi, Sub editor, Assam Tribune, Guwahati

2. Ruta Manohar Bawdekar, Dy. Chief Sub-Editor, Sakal, Pune

3. Ashwini Mangesh Satav, Reporter, Daily Pudhari, Pune

4. Mangala K.R., Sub-editor, Prajavani, Bangalore

5. Mary Bilina, Chief Sub-editor, Mathrubhumi, Calicut

6. Parul Sharma, Chief Sub-editor, Jansatta, New Delhi

7. Aasha Khosa, Special Correspondent, Indian Express, New Delhi.

8. Pratibha Shukla, Jansatta, New Delhi

9. Neelam Gupta, Jansatta, New Delhi

10. Sushma Varma, New Delhi

11. Nora Chopra, New Delhi

12. Veena Thakur, Dainik Jagaran, Kolkata

13. Laxmi Murthy, Program Manager, IFJ, New Delhi

14. S.D. Thakur

15. K. Ravindra Prasad, General Secy, BNEU, Bangalore

16. M.L. Talwar, Treasurer, AINEF

17. Raysri U.P. Nayak, President, Orissa State OUWJ,

18. Subodh Bose, Secy, AINEF

19. Benedicte Manier, French Women Journalists Association,

20. Usha Pahwa, Punjab Kesari

21. Annegret Witt-Barthel, DJV, Germany

22. Pamela Moriniere, IFJ, Brussels

23. Sushma Jagmohan, Sandhya Times

24. Krishna Rajimwale, New Delhi

25. Shalini Sharma, India Today, Delhi

26. Aditi Nigam, Financial Express, New Delhi

27. Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ (UK)

28. Neelima, NUJ

29. Madan Phadnis, President, AINEF

30. K.L. Kapur, General Secy, AINEF

31. Santosh Kumar, Vice-President, AINEF

32. Padam Nath, AINEF