Sunday, March 29, 2015

Nepalese Women Journalists: Not Just Pretty Faces

Dr Rabin Man Shakya
Former Associate Editor, The Rising Nepal

Still when I was with The Rising Nepal (1992-2005),  a number of articles written by me on media issues were published in the Nepal's first broadsheet English daily newspaper, and one of them entitled "Women in Media: Not Just Pretty Faces" was published on March 25, 1995. Back then, the number of women journalists in the Nepalese mass media was so few that they could be counted with the ten fingers of both the hands.

Well, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge of Bagmati and therefore media scenario of Nepal is changing rapidly. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists revealed recently that out of total 9,000 Nepalese journalists, only 800 are women. Two decades ago, such precise statistics were impossible to come by.

The history of women's involvement in Nepalese journalism started in 1952 when the first women's magazine "Mahila" was published.  It is to be noted that the first Nepali women's magazine was edited by Sahana Pradhan and Kamakchha Devi.

Today more than ever, journalists in general and women journalists in particular are vulnerable to different kinds of assaults, intimidation and sexual violence. Therefore, men and women journalists should work in tandem to enhance professionalism and quality of journalism and to make it a safe and secure calling.

There is no doubt that lately women's participation in Nepalese journalism is increasing by leaps and bounds. A Sancharika Samuha (SAS) research on the "Status of Women Journalists Working in the Kathmandu Valley" in 2011 still painted a grim picture of women journalists in Nepal in terms of gender inequality, sexual abuse and sexual violence etc.

According to Sancharika Samuha's research, 54 percent of Nepalese women journalists are in print media and 37 percent in electronic media. The study's findings call into question claims made by some analysts that more women journalists are attracted to the electronic media. Out of the total number of women journalists involved in electronic media, the study found that 65 percent are in FM radio stations, 19 percent in television channels, 12 percent in regular radio broadcasting and only 4 percent in digital journalism.

Similarly, another SAS study found that 75 percent of Nepalese women journalists are associated with the private sector media establishments whereas 25 percent are involved in the government-controlled media.

The challenges facing the Nepalese women journalists are indeed formidable. For many Nepalese women journalists, the problems remain the same  just as two decades ago. The women journalists just like the male journalists are underpaid and not paid in time.They are vulnerable to sex abuse, sexual assaults and intimidation. The killing of journalist Uma Singh some years ago could just be the tip of the iceberg.

More Nepalese women journalists are visible and audible in the radio-television networks, but they do not usually occupy senior positions. Nepalese women journalists are hardly ever represented in high level official media commissions, boards or committees set up for enforcing media policies. Likewise, the widening gap between women journalists working in Kathmandu and other districts underscore the radically different trajectory of the Nepalese journalists.

It is not that the democratic governments of Nepal have ignored the aspirations of the women journalists. However, failure to accommodate women journalists in the responsible posts and to implement women friendly media policy are equally conspicuous.

The success of Dr Manju Mishra in establishing the first Masters Degree College in Mass Communication in Kathmandu is just a testimony to the fact that women do not necessarily lag behind the men in creativity, leadership and professionalism.

It is good to know that women journalists organizations, such as, Sancharika Samuha - SAS (1996) and Working Women Journalists - WWJ (2006) have been working effectively to enhance the status of the Nepalese women journalists. Given the obvious contributions of the Nepalese women journalists to the Nepalese mass media, Nepalese women journalists are definitely not just pretty faces.

*I value your opinion. Please provide your feedback by posting a comment below.
**Shakya is also State Education Director, NRNA-USA Oregon Chapter, Portland, USA.

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