Thursday, December 12, 2013
- There are more women in newspaper offices across Bangladesh than ever before, but old prejudices about the unsuitability of the job for women persist to ensure the print media is still the domain of men.
The Bangladesh Centre for Development Journalism and Communication last week published a report that said the number of women journalists has substantially increased in the past few years and almost 40 percent of women employed were in their 20s.
But since women represent less than 2 percent of the total work force among working journalists, in the country’s 20 national dailies there is only one woman feature editor, shift- in-charge and a few editorial assistants.
Female journalists are hardly seen covering public rallies and on out of office assignments. There are some 114 dailies in Dhaka city alone, but only four national newspapers have one female reporter each, the report said.
Though there is no bar on women in the media, the overwhelming majority still consider the profession a male preserve. Besides, newspaper managements prefer hiring men since women require a safe working environment.
Conservative Bangladeshi society refuses to accept that women can work odd hours and late into the night, and talk openly with total strangers in public places.
“I will like my daughter to work in a government office or in a commercial firm or college where one has to work regular hours, but certainly not in a newspaper where there is shift duty and the nature of job is very strenuous,” commented a parent of a young women who did her M.A in political science.
The young woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, got a job in a daily newspaper in Dhaka but her parents did not give their consent to this job.
“I personally tried to encourage many women to become reporters, but they refused because they can’t work at night,” Mahfuz Anam, editor of the ‘Daily Star’ was quoted as having said to a columnist.
Anam who heads Dhaka’s most influential English-language newspaper, has set a new trend but his attitude contrasts with that of many other editors of national dailies. Some women journalists have been pleading unsuccessfully with their managements for reporting assignments.
“Law and order situation, hard nature of reporting job and overall atmosphere in the male dominated society of this country are not favourable for women to work in the reporting team,” said an editor, very bluntly, rejecting the suggestion.
But Mahmuda Chowdhury, a reporter in the Dhaka-based Bangla daily ‘Deen Kal’ dismisses these arguments as lame excuses. “I have been working as reporter for the last several years. I don’t find any difficulty in covering public meetings, Parliament session and doing many other assignments outside my office,” she says.
Mahmuda said that she had to travel outside the capital several times in August and September to cover the unprecedented floods, the worst this century, that ravaged far-flung villages and people. “After a field trip I would come back to office in the evening and return home late at night after submitting my report,” she said proudly.
As far as fears of the worsening law and order situation are concerned, she argued that female reporters are not the sole targets of muggers and petty criminals. Both men and women were equally victims every day in Dhaka and elsewhere, she added.
According to Mahmuda, if parents or guardians were to shake off their age-old biases, “educated women of our country can excel in any department if they are given the chance and opportunity.”
The opportunities are plenty: the number of working female journalists contrasts with the number of women who study journalism in the country’s universities. The universities of Dhaka, Chittagong and Rajshahi offer journalism courses.
In Dhaka University, 50 percent of the 60 seats in the three- year honours course in journalism is filled up by women students. But on graduating, the majority end up in professions outside the media.
Bangladesh saw an explosion of newspapers after the return of democracy in late 1990 and the lifting of all restrictions on the press. Today there are some 300 daily and weekly papers, three times the number as during the martial law years of the 1980s.
Their total circulation is only around 1.5 million, but newspapers are a powerful forum for lobbying to their owners who see it as just another business so most journalists are underpaid and exploited. Only the official news agency and a few newspapers in Dhaka have complied with the wage board recommendations.
The Dhaka Union of Journalists at a recent rally accused managements of some newspapers of earning money illegally and unethically and blamed them for driving away talent from the industry by parsimony.
“Our newspapers have still a long way to go to be able to attract talented and brilliant boys and girls to the profession of journalism,” says a senior journalist, preferring to remain unidentified.