ISLAMABAD, July 4: The Women’s Empowerment Group of Pakistan held a meeting Wednesday for women journalists from all over Islamabad.

The Women’s Empowerment Group is a non-profit organisation aiming to improve quality of life for women in Pakistan by raising awareness about – and sensitising policymakers to – discrimination and violence against women.

The meeting was intended to be a dialogue facilitated by the founders of the organisation, but quickly evolved into a frenzied debate between roughly 10 women journalists determined to offer their opinion on why journalism field is so deprived of women.

Is it all of the sexual harassment, unaccommodating work timings, and low salaries? Or is it because women who aspire to be journalists have deemed their dream unrealistic, and abandoned ship?

One journalist exclaimed, “I had to use the men’s restroom because I was the only female journalist at the news agency. I apparently was not adequate reason to have access to a women’s bathroom.”

Another immediately piped in, “during a job ‘interview”, the office head offered me a flat salary of Rs20,000 from the beginning - without taking a glance at my resume or asking me about my qualifications. If anything, the salary should be determined based on my skills, not my gender.”

“I agree. Females have different needs than men; for example, we have the right to a maternity leave. These needs must be acknowledged in the work place. Furthermore, women are not even receiving the credit they deserve for their hard work, we are often underestimated and assumed to be less capable and intelligent by our males – we have a right to be given more serious assignments,” added a middle-aged woman.Suddenly, in the midst of the heated argument, the power went out.

Everyone sat in silence for something like 10 seconds. When the light came back, the discussion took a turn.A woman in a bright coloured shalwar kameez, with dark long hair spoke up in a scolding tone: “This is our fault, and our responsibility! We bring in domestic issues and girl drama into the workplace, then complain when we are exploited. We are putting the cart before the horse. There is no value in our movement until we learn how to communicate amongst ourselves and join forces.”

Other journalists nodded their heads in agreement and followed suit when they would add a comment. “Then, we fail to trust committees and organisations thinking they are already prejudiced and corrupt. It gets us nowhere.”

They began to reach a consensus that the next generation of journalists will comprise both men and women, and that the women themselves need to encourage other women to enter this field, and create a sense of solidarity. Now is the time for women journalists to become braver and bolder; it is based on their own motivation – it’s in their hands.

The conference ended with the exchange of contact information among the journalists and organisation heads, and an agreement to create a forum for further discussion.

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