There are 4 per cent of women journalists in Pakistan according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Surprisingly these numbers don’t shock me as Pakistan is known to be one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist. If you know anything about the Daniel Pearl murder case well let’s just say Pakistan hasn’t recovered from the bad reputation. Being a journalist in Pakistan has never been easy, in fact Pakistan went down by three points and now ranks 145 out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index by RSF.
Journalists are being targeted for doing their jobs, and the Pakistani media plays a big role in this. The media is known to have a strong censorship law that leads news outlets to be threatened so severely that they can shut down whole corporations.
According to a report by the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) “media in Pakistan continue to be in chains or under a strict form of physical intimidation like killings and self-censorship regime during 2019.”
Journalists who dare to break the censorship laws have been subjected to severe smear campaigns, kidnappings, and threats. Journalists continue to place themselves at risk in the field despite such tactics.
Living in Pakistan, I can certainly say that there are issues that are not in the slightest bit talked about. Issues are covered up with scandals and lies, and it’s no wonder why Pakistan looks so horrible in international media. I’m not even getting into the politics and the blasphemy laws that are unfairly set. As journalists it’s our duty to uncover stories to get to the bottom of issues, but how can we when our own lives are threatened over a simple news story?
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), over 58 Journalists have been killed in Pakistan between the years 2000 to 2020.
Though male journalists face violence, female journalists have been known to suffer a little more in this country.
Female journalists are subjected to something called the “double attack”, a term coined by Irina Bokova. Female journalists are targeted for being both a female and a journalist.
They face double the amount of threats both in their professional and personal lives. Many are subjected to targeted attacks by government officials, false accusations, character assassination, intimidation tactics, body shaming, death threats, and honor killings.
The harassment isn’t coming from online trolls, but it’s coming from people who know them and have heavy political support on their side.
As of writing this article the most recent death occurred a month ago. Shaheena Shaheen, a talk show host and editor was reportedly shot dead by her husband in Balochistan, Pakistan. Her murder is still being called a ‘domestic matter.’
But what’s not mentioned or advocated for is the increasing number of deaths of female journalists.
In 2019, Urooj Iqbal, a female journalist who wanted to launch her own newspaper was shot dead outside her workplace by her husband who wanted her to quit her job.
These murders are a grim reminder of the countless barriers and threats female journalists receive solely based on their gender. Because there are barely any women in journalism, their rights as journalists and humans are completely ignored.
The lack of freedom in the media and violence that goes unnoticed against journalists impacts women in the field the most. Female journalists, because of their gender, face a personal threat that is so violent it succeeds not only in silencing but in killing as well.
Female journalists don’t mention their gender during their work, rather their gender defines their professional life as if it’s a bad thing.
Being able to pursue a degree in a career that has always inspired me makes me feel lucky. Not many people find out what they want to do so early on in their lives, but not until now have I started to question the untold truth that comes with my career path. I never knew that my own life could be in danger when it came to being a journalist in my home country.
As a little kid, I’ve always been inspired to help others. Growing up I wanted to pursue a degree in medicine as I thought that was the only way to help people. But learning about how journalists go far and wide to report on issues to bring them to light made me fully realize this career is my destiny. As of recently with new kidnappings and deaths every month, I’m just wondering if I’m digging my own grave with the career choice I’m making. If my job is to tell other people’s stories, how can I when the government I would work under would berate me for it?
There are examples of some women who have defied the odds and emerged in taking a leading role in redefining the norms. Even though they face threats, they are showing a path of hope to young, aspiring female journalists.
As an up and coming journalist, I know this won’t stop me from telling the truth. Maybe one day I can come back to the place I once called home and hope things have gotten better…but whatever happens with my future in writing I just know it currently won’t happen in Pakistan.