Although the field of journalism has diversified to include more women, they still remain underrepresented and often face gender-based discrimination.
Women journalists in India and around the world have come a long way since the days when they were routinely assigned to cover flower and fashion shows. But, even though they now report on wars, civil strife, politics, finance, sports, science and many other topics, women journalists are generally paid less, are less likely to be the ones deciding who gets the assignments and still face certain challenges their male counterparts don’t.
That’s the verdict of Anubha Bhonsle, an Indian journalist whose career includes over 10 years of reporting on current affairs and gender issues for CNN-IBN, now called CNN-News18, where she led the “Citizen Journalist” show, and five years at NDTV. Author of the 2016 book, “Mother, Where’s My Country?: Looking for Light in the Darkness of Manipur,” which examines the long-standing civil strife in the state, Bhonsle has also been a fellow at the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security and was the 2015-16 Hubert Humphrey Fellow at the University of Maryland, both in the United States.
“Women journalists before me fought extremely hard to be recognized, to combat sexism,” says Bhonsle. “There are many women reporters now, but when it comes to higher management, women are still few and far between. That’s particularly true with regional media. We have also had to fight against the great presumption that a woman journalist should only be covering women’s issues—that it’s a woman’s job. But, it’s not a woman’s job; it’s journalism.”
A number of studies support Bhonsle’s views. “Decision-making positions are out of reach for many women, and although some do make it to the top and there are incremental changes taking place, they are occurring too slowly for real change to be made,” according to a 2015 report, “Media and Gender in the Asia Pacific Region,” by the International Federation of Journalists (Asia-Pacific). That same year, a report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), “Inside the News: Challenges and Aspirations of Women Journalists in Asia and the Pacific,” noted, “Overall, the numbers of women in media professions have increased in recent years, but gender imbalances remain acute in the upper echelons of media organizations.” A report by the Women’s Media Center, “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2017,” found that at 20 of America’s top news outlets, men produced 62.3 percent of the news reports analyzed during the study period, while women produced 37.7 percent of the news reports.
Gender bias aside, sexual harassment remains a fact of life for women journalists in India, both when they are in the field reporting on events and in the workplace, says Bhonsle.
“It’s something that women journalists have to deal with, and they do,” she says. “You don’t want to come back from an assignment and say you couldn’t get the story. You have to be pragmatic about it. You can’t be a journalist if you’re constantly thinking about safeguarding yourself. You are responsible for your own safety and you don’t want to approach every story being afraid.”
Gender issues have come to the forefront recently in many countries, including the United States, where a number of prominent male journalists were fired after being accused of sexually harassing their female colleagues. The terminations, which were front-page news, may ultimately lead to stricter standards in the workplace, Bhonsle believes.
“Because of the revelations, I feel now that there is no place to hide [for the perpetrators] in the U.S.,” she says. “In India, I have to say, the 2012 gang rape in Delhi changed the conversation completely. There is a whole new attitude about men in positions of power and sexual harassment. And similarly, there is no place to hide here.”
Bhonsle intends to keep the spotlight on gender issues in her current position directing the #GenderAnd project of The Indian Express, which the newspaper promises will “mainstream gender” with reportage, commentary, multimedia reports, data projects, reflecting on stories from history and reporting on lives of women and gender minorities today.
“Gender must inform policy and planning,” says Bhonsle. “It is indeed the concern of our time and must be covered, and it must be covered in a straightforward manner. We hope to bring to the subject the full arc of coverage, encompassing women’s issues at work, on corporate boards, in terms of climate change, justice, refugee situations—all the many axes across which gender intersects.”
From her position on the front lines of media, does Bhonsle anticipate progress on curbing gender inequalities that still exist in the industry?
“Yes, I am optimistic,” she says, “about a lot of structures being dismantled and about the opportunities that present, like the fact that gender issues are becoming a lot more important to news organizations.”
Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.
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