Muneeza Hashmi relates her struggle to reach the top of her profession in a gender-biased world
Bold and dauntless, Muneeza Hashmi is undoubtedly an iron lady. Her resilience made her perhaps the only woman to have reached a senior management position at the state-owned Pakistan Television. She has been associated with the electronic media for over four decades and retired from Pakistan TV as Director of Programmes. Presently, she works as a media consultant and gender trainer. This year on March 23, she received the President’s Pride of Performance award for professional excellence.
“I started off as an assistant producer with Pakistan Television in 1967. I still say I got this job on a sifarish. My father and Altaf Gohar, then federal information secretary, were buddies. I got my appointment letter just two days after I had asked Uncle Altaf about the job. I went to Chaklala in Rawalpindi for two months training, and that too from German experts. It was a very good experience.
“I progressed very slowly, much slower than I should have for many reasons. There was a lot of politics and gender discrimination; even today there are very few women in PTV’s senior management. My bold and outspoken nature and carrying Faiz’s name were the other factors that worked against me. There were people at the helm of affairs who had anti-Faiz sentiments; they did their utmost to victimise me but I somehow survived.
“I introduced gender training programmes at PTV. Through a UNDP-PTV project, I produced a documentary on the ‘Portrayal of Women in the Media.’ I launched ‘Khawateen Times,’ an hour-long programme for women each night.
“I faced problems because I always raised my voice against injustice. My promotions were delayed, ACRs were messed up and foreign trips were held back. My seniority was affected owing to leaves I took to escape that pressure. I was given programmes against my aptitude to punish me in case of blunders.
“The worst period was the eleven years of Zia-ul-Haq’s regime. It was like semi-exile. Living under martial law and Zia-ul-Haq who talked about mandatory ‘Chaadar aur chaardiwari’ for women was the worst phase of my professional life. I wasn’t given work and for years I would go to office and just sit around idly. The idea was to break one’s spirit. Needless to say there was no freedom of the press.
“Unable to take this anti-liberal, anti-progressive, anti-women environment back home, I left on a scholarship to the US for two years. On my return I was faced with a transfer away from my hometown. My children were young and I couldn’t leave Lahore so I decided to resign and went to our MD, Nasir Siddiqui’s office. He said that this is exactly what those people want you to do so don’t play in their hands and don’t resign. I stayed on and finally, in 1998 I took on the post of General Manager, Lahore Station.
“Heading a station as the first woman general manager was not an easy task. It was altogether a new experience for a creative person like me. Control of a station from administration to finance to trade union was something I never dreamt of. But I say I delivered as general manager and earned recognition for what I did.
“Lahore was my parent station and I really enjoyed my work against all odds. Women must be in positions of authority to bring about change and project a more positive portrayal of women in the media. Now that I had my chance I made innovations and implemented gender-friendly policies and created an environment where women could get maximum respect. I restricted showing violence against women on PTV. We raised and discussed very bold issues involving women and their rights and it was again not an easy thing to do. The policy stayed for a while even after I left.
“I was a very strict General Manager and I had an undertaking that I would work under certain freedom. Senator Pervaiz Rashid was the PTV chairman at that time and he was very cooperative. He told me that even he would not come to Lahore station without my permission.
“When Benazir Bhutto came into power, there were lots of expectations. I also have the privilege of being the first person who interviewed her for PTV. Though her coming into power was a breather, I somehow felt there was still not as much freedom as was expected from her being the first woman Prime Minister of the country. Policies were made to ensure women’s rights but they could not be implemented in letter and spirit. Politics has its own dynamics and PTV was no exception in those days.
“I took very bold decisions from the administrative point of view as well. Under my tenure the Lahore station earned a record amount of revenue; PTV world was launched from Lahore. I made everything transparent and this policy was not acceptable to certain elements within the organisation.
“I had issues with trade unions. There were times when I had to come down to the level of union leaders; I had to grab some of them by the collar on issues and make it clear that I would not tolerate any hooliganism on the premises. Once they brought a charge-sheet against me which they read out in front of then information minister Nisar Memon. I was shocked; the charge-sheet had allegations like I favoured my son Adeel Hashmi for a programme which was patently untrue. The charge-sheet was proved false and then I brought a charge-sheet against the trade union which was proved correct after investigation and the union lost the elections.
“There were some landmark events during my term as general manger like nuclear blasts, standoff on borders and hijacking of an Indian plane, etc. I served the organisation like a true public sector employee and worked under designated parameters. I remember when General Musharraf took over and everything turned upside down — that was a paradigm shift. However, again I was treated with respect by military bigwigs at that time. Rashid Qureshi was at top and there was not a single instance when I was forced to do certain things. Every regime follows its own agenda and things went well with this understanding. Then came a moment when I decided enough is enough and called it a day. I was Director of Programmes at that time, which was again a senior position no woman had reached before me.
“I may not say that I have fond memories of my years with PTV. I paid a heavy price for being a woman and daughter of Faiz. But I must say it paid me in the end. Now what I am other than Faiz’s daughter is all because of PTV.
“As difficult as it may be to balance the needs of commercialism and gender equality, public broadcasters have to bear in mind their directive to be a reflective voice for the audiences they serve. Nowadays I feel one good thing happening in our society is the disclosure of truth. Media is vibrant, enjoys freedom and takes bold initiatives. I think it’s really nice as people have all the right to know the facts. Like Faiz said: ‘jaza aur hisaab sub yahin ho ga.’