MMfD submits response on Gender-based Violence and Harassment Against Women Journalists in Pakistan

Illustration by Aniqa Haider

Islamabad – Media Matters for Democracy (MMfD) submitted its response to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, in regards to the issue of violence against women journalists as the subject of the Special Rapporteur’s next thematic report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June this year. The submission, authored by Sadaf Khan, Waqas Naeem and Zoya Rehman, was made on March 10, 2020, and can be accessed here.

MMfD’s submission gives a general overview regarding the experiences and struggles of women journalists in Pakistan, particularly in regards to gender-based violence and the institutional responses that set them back. It also makes mentions of the local framework governing harassment against women journalists, as well as existing support networks and forms of recourse. The organisation believes that women journalists in Pakistan face systematic, structural and cultural challenges that expose them to different forms of abuse, harassment and exploitation. 

Apart from providing an overall context, this submission also highlights the #MeToo movement in Pakistan, and the stakes women journalists have in it. It briefly discusses some of the gaps in Pakistan’s harassment laws, and some of the key cases outlining sexual harassment in Pakistani newsrooms. The document emphasises that women journalists who are exposed to workplace harassment are often left without access to justice, and the challenge to acquire it remains constant at organisational, investigative and judicial levels. 

This explains why the number of women in Pakistani newsrooms remains dismally low and becomes even lower in regards to managerial and directorial positions. Without ample representation of women on decision-making tables, the organisational policies devised remain discriminatory and gender insensitive, which exacerbates the forms of gender-based violence that women journalists experience. 

This submission also reflects some of the concerns that Women in Media Alliance (WIMA) – an initiative of women in media, supported by MMfD – has raised repeatedly. WIMA conducted a flash survey, which found that 47 percent of women journalists had faced sexual harassment at work. This prevents women from pursuing careers in the media industry and also harms their mental health. The findings of this flash survey can be found here.

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Zoya Rehman is a Special Projects Manager at Media Matters for Democracy. She is a feminist researcher and organiser based in Islamabad, Pakistan. She has been working on gender and legal issues from a multidisciplinary approach through her practice and research. Zoya is a recipient of the Chevening Scholarship Award, and holds MA in Gender Studies and Law at SOAS, University of London.

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