Finding the Identity of Nepalese Women Through Media
I am Sunita Basnet coming from miles and miles away to speak on the behalf of Nepalese women, who are widely ignored, discriminated, oppressed and under-represented even in their own family. I am speaking for the need to create a better society for me, my sisters, mothers and my children in the future. I am uncomfortable to share this story but this is what my friend once told me after she was forced to marry without her consent. She said, “I wish I could be a man.” I firmly believe that, to create a better society, the media can play a vital role by empowering women and bridging the gender gaps. I want to take the advantage of this rare opportunity to share with you and the people across the globe the issues related to women’s identity, challenges in the media in Nepal and discuss some prospective solutions to them. I hope the general picture that I try to show up here gives you a glimpse of the situation of women in general.
Nepal is a patriarchal society with the population of about 27 million where more than 50% are women. Being a male dominated society, the state of the women is very miserable and pathetic, while men predominantly exercise their power in every sector - inside and outside of the house; and the media sector is not far away from this situation. In Nepal, there are about 4000 national and local newspapers, 6 television stations, and more than 60 FM radio stations. With the mushrooming of these media with the political opening and establishment of democratic system in 1990, women journalists have started working in the media sector. The end of authoritative rule of the King and the establishment of democratic system ensured the freedom of press that led to enormous emergence of media. However, the participation level of women is not yet satisfactory; thus obviously, males have occupied most of the senior positions in media.
In Nepal, 35% of seats are reserved for women’s empowerment however; it is very embarrassing to say that the representation of women journalist in the government media is only 12%. Currently, the participation of women in government-run media such as Radio Nepal, Nepal Television and The Gorakha Patra Sansthan is 17 %, 16 % and 14 % respectively. In addition, there is only one woman in the board member of press council. Similarly, in the membership of federation of Nepalese journalist only less than 10% are women. I think it might not be surprising to acknowledge that only 10% of women own media house and 12% of them own ownership in News Department. Even though the media is considered as the fourth organ of the state and is supposed to contribute to strengthening democratic values and culture, the aforementioned participation level clearly undermines this argument.
As well, if we observe the nature of the responsibilities the women are provided with in the media, most of the women journalists are found to have been assigned for “soft issues” such as culture, art and lifestyles; but only few are assigned for “hard issues” like politics, conflict, security, and economy. Women are more visible as a presenter in fm/radio and television but hardly as reporters, editors and other technicians.
Even if women run the programs on hard issues, there exist challenges of physical security to them. Let me share a recent story of Uma Singh, a 30 years old female radio reporter from Janakpur, who was murdered at her home on January 12, 2009 by around 15 unidentified armed men with knives. She was killed for critically reporting on the local politicians and speaking against the dowry system in Terai region. She had strong views against gender discrimination, caste-based discrimination, dowry system, under-representation of women in various spheres of life. After the murder of Uma Singh, many female journalists were either forced by their own family members to give up their job or left with the feeling of insecurities. Similarly, just two months ago, a female journalist was severely beaten almost to death by some unidentified people. She is believed to have been attacked for writing against the Maoists activities in her district. These are a couple of many such cases even after her incident.
Women journalists mostly outside of the Kathmandu valley are often reminded of insecurities. In some rural communities, women are strictly prohibited to participate in any activities and sometimes are severely beaten, tortured and even shot dead. Since, the whole country itself is suffering from the state of lawlessness, one can rarely hope for the punishment to the murderers – rather they get political protection that fuels for further crimes and impunity. It is a pity, for women journalists in Nepal that their job is always under the flux of security and sustainability. They are obliged to work with the gender-based discriminatory environment such as social and familial barrier, poor economic benefits and high hard works – these problems within the media have heavily discouraged the female journalists from participating in the media sector. Similiarly, women not only do have a double responsibility to manage the time for reporting and their family, they also have to challenge the traditional cultural barriers to work in the media.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I stated earlier, there are various reasons for participation of women in media sector in Nepal – and this case may resonate to some cases in other parts of the world as well. However, one of the fundamental reasons behind poor participation of women in media is that there is a lack of discussion among women journalists themselves on the issues on how they can enable themselves to enhance leading positions in media, how they can encourage more women, how they can frame issues for women rights and how they can develop networks and solidarity for women’s empowerment. These are critical areas, where policy intervention and strategies need to be focused. The initiative like the publication of “Mahila” (meaning ‘Women’) magazine, which was edited by Sahana Pradhan (present lawmaker) and Kamashaya Devi in recent past can be the rays of hope for the future for women’s leadership in media. However, I think that besides women’s movement and coordinated work, women also need to orient their strategies towards influencing various state and non state actors so that they can succeed to develop better policies that can guarantee women’s participation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me now highlight why women’s participation in Media is necessary and how media can contribute to various aspects of women’s lives.
I think that, since the media do have their own social responsibility, they should employ various policies and strategies to empower and mobilize women through their programs. Media can organize gatherings to build up women alliances and bring the likeminded people together. Similarly, media can help to publish the successful stories of women so that other women inspired to work for women; and publishing such stories is also instrumental to attract individual as organizational donors who might be willing to supports such programs.
For instance, when the Pulse Wire Program (this organization which works to create ‘equal visibility’ for women in international media) published the inspiring story of Winnie Kiwalabye, the executive director of Mama Africa International Ministries of Uganda, many Pulse Wire members were interested to help in her community-based project, which has been working for educating and empowering children and women. Even some of the members traveled from New York to Nigeria to support her work.
And I think that it is also necessary to extend mass communication to rural parts of the country so that the most ignored groups of women who live in those areas can benefit. In Nepal, most of the ignored groups of women are dalit (outcast), badi and widows are victimized in rural areas.
Let me share my online journalism training experience – which I think this can be an example of how such communication is crucial to women. When I was studying Access Academy in Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, I was granted with a scholarship to attend an online journalism training name “VOF correspondent training” from World pulse that was operated from USA. This training was really an eye-opening for me that enlighten me a lot. This training helped me to develop and sharpen my writing skills and developing networks with people and organizations. It was a great opportunity for a girl like to learn about how sharing ideas and experiences among women and various others actors working for the well-being of women. By then, I have been actively writing and sharing ideas with others, which I believe is beneficial and something worthy.
Therefore, I strongly believe that the media can be very effective instrument for addressing various problems related to social, political, economical and cultural injustices, discrimination, marginalization that the country like mine have been struggling with.
But, the uphill task remains on how it can be ensured women’s participation and leadership in media sector so that they can utilize the power of media for the rights of themselves. While we may argue that the sole role of media might not be detrimental to bring radical changes in women’s lives, I firmly believe that media is very powerful tool to meeting various goals towards women’s upliftment, empowerment, gender equality, social justices and democracy in any country. All these can encourage women to make differences and changes in their societies through media.
Thank you so much for your attention and have a wonderful night.
This speech was written by me to deliver at One Young World Summit in London but due to time constraint, I was unable to deliver full speech. I hope you all will enjoy this piece.