Women in the news

Published December 6, 2015

An industry that was traditionally run by men is witnessing a gender shift: more women have entered the Pakistani news media industry in the past decade than ever before. The face of Pakistani media is changing, and women are the catalysts of this transformation

A story worth telling

Three generations of newscasters: Shaista Zaid, Ishrat Fatima and Maria Memon
Three generations of newscasters: Shaista Zaid, Ishrat Fatima and Maria Memon

by Naziha Syed Ali

The number of women journalists is increasing in urban centres, in English-language newspapers, and in news channels but puncturing prevalent biases and practices will take more time

In the ‘80s, when Nafisa Hoodbhoy would arrive at crime scenes in Karachi, notepad in hand and questions at the ready, it created quite a stir. One day, she recalls, a crime reporter from an Urdu newspaper, who saw her at every incident, finally cried out in exasperation, “Doesn’t Dawn have any male reporters left?”

Those were the days of ‘lady reporters’ who were restricted to certain beats, when it was considered almost unseemly for women journalists to get down in the trenches to work alongside their male counterparts. However, there were some outliers among them, both at the editorial desk and out in the field, who challenged those stereotypes and tore up the ‘journalism etiquette for women’s rulebook with gusto.

There was Razia Bhatti, who as editor of Herald, revamped what was then a society tabloid into a news magazine; Nargis Khanum who became the news editor of TheStar; intrepid reporters and feature writers such as Najma Babar, Lalarukh Hussain, Zohra Yusuf, Sherry Rehman and many others that blazed a trail for future generations to follow. Some women journalists went on to make the top tier at various media organisations, among them Maleeha Lodhi, who became the first woman editor of a national daily, The Muslim.

For many decades, until the early 2000s in fact, the journalism landscape in Pakistan was largely limited to print. But it was a journalism whetted on the grindstone of the tumultuous politics of the decades past, particularly the resistance against Zia’s dictatorship, and journalists — including many women — were at the forefront of the pro-democracy movement.

Today, the media includes around 30 television news channels and 170 FM radio channels, besides more than 250 news publications. Even though in terms of numbers women journalists are still nowhere near their male colleagues, they can be found in both print and electronic media – covering rallies, terrorist attacks, natural disasters — and at all levels of the profession.

Nevertheless, the women journalists who came earlier were navigating truly uncharted waters. “For me, the challenge was to get out and discover everything for myself. That meant departing from the beats assigned to me, namely women, health and social welfare,” says Ms Hoodbhoy of her time as a reporter in the ‘80s. “My editor gave me the coveted political beat after I dug into the health beat, and reported on gunshot victims piling up in hospitals because of ethnic warfare. I was still in my 20s while my colleagues were middle-aged men, who had neither the energy nor the desire to race around like me.”

A gentleman’s code of conduct operated in the nearly all-male print newsrooms of old — even though it could be infuriatingly patronising at times. Zubeida Mustafa, who became assistant editor at Dawn soon after she joined in 1975, remembers being told that she was a “test case”; she realised there had been considerable resistance to her hiring.

“No one even bothered to introduce me to my colleagues, and the men of that generation were so correct that it was difficult to communicate with them. I was the only woman there and for weeks I didn’t even know where the ladies’ toilet was,” she says with a laugh.

Moreover, although she was soon writing up to five editorials a week — she was the only woman editorial writer in Pakistan at the time — the editorial staff would take days to print opinion pieces with her byline. In fact it was rare in those days for any paper to carry an op-ed by any woman writer. Much later, when she was in charge of the op-ed section, Mustafa tried to redress the gender imbalance, sometimes rather too well. “At times I’d have to pull an article at the last minute because I’d realise that all the opinion pieces that day were by women!”

While senior managements in English journalism were comparatively — albeit reluctantly — more open to the idea of having women in the newsroom, Urdu journalism was a far more hidebound and conservative milieu. However, at Aman, the pro-democracy, anti-Zia Urdu daily that drew many progressive political activists into its fold in the early ‘80s, distinctions of gender were subsumed in the fervour of resistance politics.

In those heady days, Mahnaz Rahman, the sole woman journalist there, saw herself as part of history in the making. “Men and women, we were all the same. As far as we were concerned, we were bringing about a revolution; we worked like crazy but it didn’t feel like work.” Rahman, who is now resident director at Aurat, the women’s rights NGO, was also elected president of the Aman employees’ union. Although, it is pertinent to note, there was no ladies toilet on the premises.

She came up against the old prejudices while interviewing for a job at a large, established Urdu daily. “I told them I absolutely did not want to work on their ladies’ page. They were quite amused, probably thought I was mad, and I didn’t hear back from them,” she recalls.

Women presenters and anchors are common in television channels, and many of them are highly accomplished, but few women journalists across all types of media are in decision-making positions, even less so in the Urdu and vernacular media.

Such archaic attitudes still persist; they are more common in the Urdu and vernacular media and are also to a great extent determined by geography. The public space in many parts of Pakistan is seen as a male domain that women enter only at their peril. That partly explains why there are still few women journalists, let alone reporters, in areas outside the major urban centres. It also means that many women today are still fighting the battles for space and recognition that have already been fought by their predecessors in cities like Karachi and Lahore.

Farzana Ali, Peshawar bureau chief at Aaj TV — a position also responsible for the seven tribal agencies — made it clear from the time she began as a journalist with Daily Mashriq in 1997 that she was going to push the boundaries even on the social issues beat. Her stories on swara (the tribal custom of giving girls in marriage as compensation to settle feuds) and honour killing were among those that ruffled many conservative feathers. They also established her reputation for hard-hitting journalism by the time she joined television.

In 2009, Aaj gave her a show called ‘Hot Frontier’ during which she did in situ reporting on the military operations in Swat and South Waziristan. “It’s never easy to challenge tradition in a conservative society,” she says.“On one occasion, during a rally in Peshawar by the Difa-i-Pakistan Council [a coalition of mainly extreme right groups], I was in our DSNG van when it was attacked. The crowd was shouting that it was haram for a woman to be seen in public, that too with her face uncovered.” Timely intervention by the Jamaat-i-Islami secretary general who was present at the scene defused the situation.

However, in what is essentially a chauvinistic social milieu, misogyny can cut across socio-economic distinctions. Experience and accomplishment affords no protection. Quatrina Hosain, a veteran journalist and Pakistan’s first woman war correspondent, who covered the Sri Lankan conflict in 1995 as an AFP reporter, was assaulted at a PTI election rally in 2013. “It was extremely violent and terrifying,” she recalls. “Nothing like it had ever happened to me before and the trauma stayed with me for a long time.” Perhaps, she reflects, such harassment is becoming more commonplace because “television puts you literally in people’s homes and thereby breeds a certain familiarity”.

Workplace challenges are also daunting. Notwithstanding the trappings of a modern and inclusive media climate, women journalists often have to contend with a cultural bias that trivialises their abilities and resents their achievements. That attitude is manifested in unequal pay, and often also in sexual harassment, which, according to most of the journalists quoted in this article, is rampant — notwithstanding the legal requirement for a three-member committee at every media organisation to address such complaints.

Ironically, although television has opened the doors of opportunity for more women to enter the profession, it has also led to a premium on appearance and a corresponding disregard for intellectual ability, thereby reinforcing existing prejudices about women’s inherently ‘inferior’ intellect.

These skewed perceptions mean that while women presenters and anchors are common in television channels, and many of them are highly accomplished, few women journalists across all types of media are in decision-making positions, even less so in the Urdu and vernacular media. “It’s a reflection of society itself; there’s a disdain for women that permeates all tiers of the profession,” says Munizae Jahangir, executive producer and anchor at Aaj television. “So there’s discrimination within organisations too.”

Women in management positions can have a huge impact on their female colleagues’ professional trajectory. Ms Jahangir, for instance, has never let anything stand between her and a good story, an approach she credits to her avowedly feminist women editors at NDTV, the Indian news channel where she first worked as a reporter. “They would send me to places where women didn’t usually go: for instance, to cover the military operations in Swat and South Waziristan,” she says. “When Benazir Bhutto was killed, I remember being amazed when women reporters [at an Urdu TV channel] said they weren’t allowed to go and cover the disturbances that followed, and the fact they didn’t even try to protest.”

Hosain, who has worked at senior positions both in print and TV, proffers another reason for the paucity of women at the top: she believes it is partly because many of them lost their seniority when they left their jobs to get married. “Most news directors are men. Women who left the field to raise children and rejoined later are not at the same level now,” she says. “Also, they haven’t kept up with the technological advances in journalism.”

There is certainly something to be said for perseverance. Nargis Baloch, the first and so far only woman president of the Hub press club, is editor of Intekhab — an Urdu daily that focuses on news about Balochistan — and oversees a staff of 100 men. During her eight years as sub-editor at the paper, she familiarised herself with every aspect of the work, including the minutiae of the printing process — “I even knew which inks were used!” — all the while also travelling by road to various parts of Balochistan to cover stories.

She was fortunate to have a management that recognised her capacity for hard work and appointed her to the top position. “My problem isn’t with my co-workers; they’re very cooperative, but it’s colleagues outside this paper who exhibit professional jealousy,” she says. “They find it difficult to accept a woman who’s successful in her job, even one like me with 26 years of journalistic experience.”

That, unfortunately, is a reality that professional women across the board in Pakistan can identify with. Like them, women journalists too have to contend with poor working conditions, unequal pay and perniciously ingrained misogyny — and soldier on.

Finding balance

by Afia Salam

For the willing and able, opportunities exist in newsrooms to reclaim beats that have become the preserve of men

Are women associated with the news and media industry making their mark? Are there just about enough women in the rank and file of media houses running channels and publications, or are there too few or too many? Do the numbers matter or is clout more important in the media industry?

On all these scores, the situation in Pakistan now in 2015 is of course very different from the early days of the media when women were few and far between. Back then, there were more women in magazines than in newspapers, and more in English language newspapers than the Urdu and regional language ones.

Source: IFJ report titled Media and Gender in Pakistan
Source: IFJ report titled Media and Gender in Pakistan

While the numbers remained low, in the electronic media too, including the State-owned television and radio channels, women there made their mark in the fields of production, documentary making and programming. The sudden explosion in the media after the year 2000, with the advent of private TV channels and FM radios, as well as many new publications, saw a spike in the number of women in the media too.

However, contrary to the general impression, the gender (im)balance has remained in single digits. The impression of there being a lot of women in the media now is probably because many have been catapulted in front of the camera as reporters, news and programme anchors. To their credit, they are holding their own behind the camera in front of editing suites, in the creative departments, on the panel as producers and programme planners and editors.

However, when one looks at the numbers in the media science/studies departments of just the public sector universities, where girls outnumber boys by far, one wonders where they disappear to once they get their degrees. The corresponding percentage just is not there across the media industry.

The reasons are many and varied, and mostly have to do with the total absence of career counseling at educational institutions. This allows students to take up subjects that have professional application. However, when push comes to shove, after the degree is thrust in their hands, the family and cultural constraints render them useless to the field for which they were educationally equipped.

Another reason is the extremely challenging and competing environment where jobs are few and candidates many. Challe­nging not just in terms of economic opportunity but in terms of the swathe of issues the media is expected to cover.

Source: IFJ report titled Media and Gender in Pakistan
Source: IFJ report titled Media and Gender in Pakistan

The creeping elements of misogyny, corruption, exploitation and optics are all pulled out of the box selectively to decide who should and shouldn’t be allowed to enter the field. Geographic advantage allows more females in four to five bigger urban centers to make the cut than in smaller towns, whereas in the rural areas, they are conspicuous by their absence.

It has been a decade and a half since the media was ‘freed up.’ However, almost for that very time period, we have seen the country experience increasing violence and unrest, as well as political upheaval. This meant that the focus of the content, especially the hard core news content, shifted to the coverage of these events. In turn, this saw the reemergence of the divide of the ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ beats given to reporters, where the men were assigned to the former, and women to the latter.

It goes to their credit that many literally snatched that space that was fast becoming an exclusive male preserve and reported from conflict zones and troubled spots. This change has been slow and hard to come by, and within newsrooms, it came to only those who demanded it and then proved their ability to deliver. It was never thrust on the unwilling, which is not an advantage male reporters get.

The same goes for the issue of the duty timings. Print magazines had more women than men because the almost 9-5 or at least daylight hour timings could be maintained. Even in newspapers, only those women who said they were okay with doing late shifts or did not have a transport issue would get to be there.

In my career, as a media professional who interacts with journalists during trainings, I have heard very few complaints that females were assigned duties or shifts despite their objections, unless it was through malicious intent such as harassment etc.

Not a level playing field

Standing between a sea of men, Geo News’ Sana Mirza reports on PTI’s Azadi sit-in, where she was later harassed by party workers. Similar cases of harassment were reported by Gharida Farooqi of Samaa and Abb Takk’s Quatrina Hosain
Standing between a sea of men, Geo News’ Sana Mirza reports on PTI’s Azadi sit-in, where she was later harassed by party workers. Similar cases of harassment were reported by Gharida Farooqi of Samaa and Abb Takk’s Quatrina Hosain

by Zofeen T. Ebrahim

Times are changing but the systemic issues braved by women journalists remain the same

Over three decades separate Tasneem Ahmar beginning her journalism career and Sidra Azhar Dar entering the media industry, and yet, both women share a similar grouse: women might often be the face of news, but are very seldom the boss behind the news. For women working in the media, it seems time has stood still.

“Men still control most of the media including its content and the financial structure,” says Ahmar, who serves as the director of a media advocacy and monitoring organisation, Uks Research Centre. For the last 18 years, her research has been focused on the problems and challenges faced by women in the media.

This is also the finding of this year’s report “Media and Gender in Pakistan” by the International Federation of Journalists, which states that the reason for “gender-insensitive nature of content” in news, current affairs and entertainment was because it was seen from a “male lens” which looked at issues with focus on “circulation figures, ratings, commercials and one-upmanship”.

Women have not broken the glass ceiling in journalism, but this should not come as a surprise to anyone since there is an absence of women leaders in most media organisations and those who do hold the top most positions are just a handful. In the industry today are some stellar names: Ramiza Nizami, The Nation’s chief executive officer; Farzana Ali of Aaj TV, Peshawar; Maimoona Saeed, who heads Geo’s Multan office; and till recently, Samina Pervaiz, who served as the chief of the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation.

But even these may be considered mere tokenism after a critical mass of women entered the newsroom in the last 15 years when private television and FM radio channels hit the airwaves. Today, there are 50 privately-owned TV channels, 170 FM radio channels and more than 250 news publications. Where are the women?

Dar entered the industry about three years ago, but she argues that the one factor that has stood out in this time as the hallmark of Pakistani journalism is “a deep-rooted patriarchal system” in the profession. On the other hand, the Uks Research Centre director finds a vast knowledge gap in understanding and coverage of gender or women issues as well as their marginalisation in the workplace.

“How do you break that when the gatekeepers are men?” she asks.

While media has the power to bring a sea change in public opinion, if those making the news come with a certain mindset, it will only contribute to perpetuating stereotypes instead of bringing a fresh narrative. In that sense, the newsroom is a microcosm of society and reflects a typically male-dominated culture.

Shehr Bano, Supplements Editor at The News, Karachi, says women are often given the short shrift where pay is concerned. “I may be getting the newspaper more revenue, and I may be working the same back-breaking hours as say another section head, but there is a huge gap in his pay and mine,” she laments. While male colleagues in the same position get medical allowance for their spouse and children, she is only entitled to this benefit for her children.

But that may not be true for all organisations.

Rabia Ali from TheExpress Tribune says that in her organisation, the remuneration depends “on the position and not gender.” But unlike many other professions, stories often unfold at sociably inconvenient time. Deadlines are often short as is the editor’s patience, and neither respects family time of the reporter. In addition, very few organisations provide maternity leave or flexi hours for new mothers.

Ali “knows” she would not be able to continue with her passion once she has children, as work timings and fieldwork in her profession is often very demanding. Like many other organisations, hers too lacks a day-care facility for staff.

But even for those women who are single and qualified, there are few chances of career advancement or opportunities for skills training as compared to their male counterparts.

In many organisations, the hiring policy may state “this is an equal opportunity” employment, but researchers argue that managements always go into negotiation with the mindset that if they hire an unmarried woman, she would leave after marriage; if they hire a young married woman, she may get pregnant and leave; and if they hire a married woman with children, she would not be able to give all her attention to work.

“But this is just in their mind; it’s difficult to juggle work and family but many women have shown they can manage superbly,” she says giving the example of Asma Shirazi, who has had two babies while on job and continues with her career.

Many times, though, the problem is not the management as much but their male colleagues.

“They are fine till you are doing soft beats like women’s and child health, education, etc; but the moment you so much as try and step on their beats, especially crime and politics, they get threatened,” says Dar.

She was sent text messages and then told outright that it would help if she was more “friendly” and “spent more time” with her colleagues covering those beats so that they would “facilitate” or “cooperate” with her.

Here again, Rabia Ali’s experience has been somewhat different. She has been in print media for over six years and started with doing what she termed “manly” consumer rights and issues beat from the very beginning. “I moved on to doing human rights, minorities as well as crime reporting.” A year back she was handed the “hardcore beat” of reporting the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

Another problem is the sexual harassment many suffer and in silence.

“When I was working in the newsroom, I often heard stories of a senior colleague harassing his young female colleagues,” narrates Lubna Jerar, head of content, social media at Jang / Geo group. When she asked them why they didn’t report him, they said he was very senior and no one would believe them. When a woman did find the courage to file a complaint against him, she became the butt of ridicule with men and isolated by the women. This woman resigned after a while.

The sexual harassment complaint cell set up by various organisations seldom provides the complainant any protection; in most cases the perpetrator comes out more powerful than before and the victim is punished for naming and shaming the star worker.

Dar agreed and says most men think the “profession is not respectable” and neither are those who come into it, especially women.

“Most men still adhere to the chadar and chardiwari (home) concept, and to them women who leave that to pursue a career are fair game,” argues one woman researcher.

Jerar, who imparts training to women journalists, says they often did not even realise what they were putting up was tantamount to harassment. “Those who knew say it was already difficult to convince their families to let them work in the media and if they made an issue of it, they would be forced to sit at home,” she says.

I am a woman, watch me report

Working with sharks

Farzana Ali Khan

Aaj TV

In search of human stories, I have travelled far and wide in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the adjoining tribal belt during the past 17 years — from the caves of Khyber Agency to Damadola in Bajaur, from South Waziristan to Swat, Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan. As a TV journalist, if you are talking about Bajaur Agency, then it’s a must that you have to be in Bajaur Agency. I have gone through that and more.

And yet, when it came to managing staff comprised mostly of men as the bureau chief of a news channel in Peshawar, the experience underlined for me just how difficult it is to handle the menfolk in Pukhtun society. Despite being a woman in a position of power, one needs to be very aware and careful of their surroundings. Most men are often reluctant to take orders from a woman.

I feel journalism has changed a lot ever since the late 1990s, when I first entered the media industry. We face a lot of pressures today; most of these are not just limited to dealing with the threats posed by militancy either, there is pressure from political and other elements too.

But reporting as a woman is often more productive; women tend to me more committed to their sources and greater engagement with their topic. I entered journalism with the sole purpose of giving a voice to thousands of voiceless women; by highlighting these stories, I always find myself a catalyst in resolving issues. Sometimes through my personal contacts with officials, I was able to help hundreds of women suffering in the war on terror and particularly during the floods.

In our society, where women are not allowed to talk to any strangers, I sometimes get a scoop by visiting women inside their homes. It is, of course, difficult for me to do live reporting from the spot as many men do. But the danger and threat over here are for everybody and particularly affect our womenfolk.

And yet, the basic principles remain consistent: stay honest to the subject, reveal the truth and inform our audience, irrespective of whether they are men or women. In the same vein, a reporter is also just a reporter; it has nothing to do with gender. Don’t let the sharks fool you into believing otherwise.

Wanted: more mentors

Meher Bokhari

Dawn News

The emergence of women reporters and anchors in broadcast media has allowed boundaries and stereotypes to be challenged. More women is positive but many of them need more training, more study, and development of better editorial and news sense.

Print had this edge, in that people were subjected to vigorous training and hard task masters. There is a dearth of mentors and teachers in television, i.e. Ustaad!

I am often asked about gender inequality at the workplace; I think it is unfair for me to answer this as I don’t represent the hundreds of women out there in the workplace, who face such challenges on a daily basis (reporters, receptionists, producers, etc).

May be owing to my position, or confidence, I have personally never felt the same. When I entered the field, however, the greatest challenge I faced was not being taken seriously.

For too long, current affairs/politics has remained the domain of men.

The age factor worked against me too: at 24, I was hosting and producing my flagship show. It was hard for some of my colleagues to accept a young woman doing so well.

But given the patriarchal society and the free labelling of women, I do feel it is hard for me to intermingle with men beyond a certain time and occasion. This is a hurdle, definitely.

But it is heartening to know that women are going past the glass ceiling today. Focus, hard work, high vision but feet on ground — all ceilings can and are being broken.

I would like to see more women in management positions for sure, but as my own CEO Nazafreen Saigol once said, “Excuse me, while I kiss the sky!”

Unequal rewards

Kiran Khan

Dunya News

“If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman” — Margaret Thatcher

My journalistic career started when I was just 23. Over a decade since, I have come to understand that working as a journalist in Pakistan is not as comfortable for women as it is for men.

I see myself working much harder, fearing far more security threats than a man does under the same conditions, especially when it comes to reporting gang wars, bomb blasts, religious processions and political upheavals.

While reporting incidents from sensitive locations, I have witnessed numerous pitched battles, explosions and massacres, as well as incidents of gunfire. I have seen the injured struggle for life on the spot, and the dead waiting for their identification.

Once, while covering a bomb blast in Karachi, I was hit by a splinter moments after I heard a deafening blast that occurred inches from where I stood! Although I escaped major injury, the mayhem changed my overall outlook on life and values.

Living through these experiences, I came to know more about myself both as a woman and as a journalist. I realised that one should live every single day to its fullest; and that it’s only the family that suffers the most during the hard times. And may be a very few friends too! I am now certainly more capable of saying that women in the line of duty are as committed and as good as men are believed to be!

Women quite often face multiple issues while performing their routine tasks that are primarily related to security, timings, outstation assignments and fear of physical and mental harassment! By the end of the day though, they manage to overcome all such hurdles only to achieve as much as men, or maybe more, even in a chauvinist and misogynist society like ours.

If they learn the virtues of integrity, dignity and patience with the courage of making their point assertively in cases of hostility and untoward situations, coupled by a relentless spirit of hard work and consistency, women will surely mark their overwhelming presence in the Pakistani media industry.

Just a journalist

Sadia Qasim Shah


In my 13 years of journalism, the last decade has been one of tumult and torment. With bombs exploding in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and threats being issued from the adjoining tribal areas, journalism was not an easy job here. Living through all these years of kinetic terrorism and bigotry was the biggest challenge I faced every day.

I reported at a time of clergy rule, when even women’s faces were not accepted on billboards. Militancy was at its peak in 2009 and Peshawar was fast turning into a ghost town. It got unbearable, and I went away to pursue the same career from more the secure climes of Washington D.C.

Before the war had ended, though, I opted to return home.

I soon realised that the stories that make it to the front page are those filed by male reporters. Women reporters are often assigned softer beats, and thus, my human victims would never make it to the front page. They were just another statistic.

On the field, many of the battles braved by women are about privacy. Half the time, a woman reporter has to either keep explaining she really is a reporter, and the other half is spent in evading personal questions about family background and marital status to men she is only coming across in a professional capacity.

Many of my men colleagues often argue that they too brave dangers. Indeed, but what my colleagues often don’t realise is that a woman reporter has a battle on her hands every day if she wants to save her sense of self when she steps out of the home. Thankfully, the cordial and harassment-free environment at work kept me going.

Sometimes, I do ponder over whether the presence of a women reporter in a newsroom is like a trophy — as if more women in a newsroom gives it the legitimacy of being labelled as “gender-balanced.” Chauvinism and professional jealousies do surface at times but guidance and support of some colleagues is unbelievable.

What I do believe though is that the “woman” qualification added to a journalist is discriminatory and exclusionary. Today, I juggle my life between reporting and fulfilling my role as member of the National Commission on the Status of Women from KP. It is challenging, of course, but the greater challenge is in being recognised as just a journalist without the unnecessary adjective ‘woman.’

In Fareshteh’s footsteps

Shazia Hasan


My mother wanted a daughter who she could enjoy dressing up like a doll. Sadly, she wasn’t around for long and I grew up in a house of boys. The eldest of them, my father, couldn’t be bothered by all that girly stuff so he raised me like a son. Though my brothers have never been interested in sports, I shared this love with my father, whiling away our time watching cricket in front of the TV.

I enjoyed writing and hoped to get into journalism some day. My father would fold up the sports pages so that the cricket reports by a female sports reporter, Fareshteh Gati, would be on top. “You can be the next Fareshteh,” he would tell me.

And so, when I entered journalism, Dawn’s sports section is where I wanted to be. Things didn’t exactly go according to plan — seven years in the organisation saw me grow and climb up the ranks to become the editor of Books & Authors. Two years after that, there was an opportunity in the sports section and I bagged it with both hands.

On my first day there, the all-male staff seemed anxious. Nobody ate a morsel. “We were afraid someone would burp, what would you think of us then,” one colleague confessed two years later.

I was assigned the football beat at the beginning, but this gave birth to another issue. Most football in Karachi takes place in Lyari, but with security conditions not exactly ideal, my editor wanted me to always assess the risks of going to the stadium.

It was while covering football that one day, I came face-to-face with my role model. It was a high profile children’s tournament and Fareshteh, now Fareshteh Aslam, was one of the sponsors/organisers. She had switched careers and entered the corporate world by then, but shared with me some memories of 20 years ago when she had first started out.

“You should cover cricket,” she suggested. Another very senior woman sports reporter, Afia Salam, also covered cricket but I wanted to cover different sports.

For five years I reported regularly on football, hockey and women’s cricket besides a few other sports. Covering women’s cricket, I’ve had the chance of staying with the national team at Muridke during camp, when the Pakistan Cricket Board saw no harm in accommodating another girl. Since no male is allowed in women’s swimming, I enjoy exclusive covering rights there, too, and also work as technical official, an honourary position during championships. My reports about football contributed in Karachi bagging a FIFA Goal Project.

Yes, there have also been times when men footballers changed into their kits in the dugout ahead of a match. In those moments, not knowing where to look, I also wanted to dig a hole in the ground to bury myself in!

My father’s sudden passing four years ago changed me somewhat. That’s when I switched to city reporting though I still report on sports occasionally. One day, I was also approached for advice by a wide-eyed young reporter straight out of university. Natasha Raheel from The Express Tribune said that she really enjoyed sports but wasn’t sure if she should choose the desk or reporting. I helped her make her decision.

Just last month, I ran into her and she said that I was her role model. From Afia, to Fareshteh, to me and now Natasha, the trend is picking up.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, December 6th, 2015



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