HER WORLD Sunday, February 24, 2002, Chandigarh, India
 


Media women tell their story
Laxmi Murthy
"W
OMEN have changed the way conflict is reported. When reporting on conflicts, the perspectives of women and children and the impact on human life are now routinely included in the news even by male reporters," said Catherine Phelps, correspondent with The Times, London.

Living life fast-forward!
Chetna Banerjee
F
OREWARNED, they say, is forearmed. So I believed, earlier. Countless words of advice and caution had been mouthed by kith and kin to prepare me for one of the biggest events in my life—-motherhood. "Be ready for long sleepless nights." "You’re bound to suffer from baby blues." 

A raw deal, indeed
Raman Mohan
A
LTHOUGH globally, women produce more than 50 per cent of humanity's food supply, yet, the stereotype of a farmer continues to be a man. A study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows that in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, women provide up to 80 per cent of staple foods. 

Milestones yes, but still miles to go...
Tanjit Kaur
W
OMEN and girls occupy a pivotal status as far as the prosperity of the family as a unit is concerned. Family welfare and prosperity of the family is influenced by gender indicators/issues, to help us see so as to what extent discrimination prevails vis-a vis male and female.

READERS’ RESPONSE
Achieving wives & ill husbands

THIS refers to "Achieving wives make husbands ill" by Taru Bahl (February 3). Women have always been considered fit to remain confined within four walls. In changing times almost every woman is working and if she gets a better job than her husband, both salary and status wise, it is then that envy starts engulfing her man.

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Media women tell their story
Laxmi Murthy

"WOMEN have changed the way conflict is reported. When reporting on conflicts, the perspectives of women and children and the impact on human life are now routinely included in the news even by male reporters," said Catherine Phelps, correspondent with The Times, London. This, however, was only one of the few optimistic notes at the National Workshop on Women in Journalism held in New Delhi between January 28 and 30. More than a hundred women journalists from 16 centres across the country deliberated on issues ranging from globalisation and militarisation and their impact on the media to working conditions of women journalists. The picture that emerged was that though women journalists had increased in number and become more visible, a lot more needed to be done to make the work environment conducive for a level playing field.

For instance, those present at the Workshop, which was organised by Voices, a Bangalore-based development and communications non-governmental organisation (NGO) with support from UNESCO, pointed out that gender discrimination at the workplace still exists. Relegating women journalists to 'beats' considered unimportant, exclusion from high-profile assignments and stymied opportunities for advancement are still the reality for a majority of women journalists across the country. Some of the revelations by the participants were shocking. For instance, in Kerala, universally lauded for 100 per cent literacy and women's empowerment, only one per cent of the journalists are women, and the Kerala Union of Working Journalists does not have a single woman member.

Sexual harassment also emerged as a rampant problem, with little scope of redress. The preliminary results of a survey conducted by Voices among women journalists prior to the workshop, revealed that as many as 56 per cent of the media organisations had not implemented the Supreme Court Directives to formulate policies and set up committees to deal with sexual harassment at the workplace.

Even liberalisation and the opening up of the economy, which had led to more opportunities, had not helped women journalists much because most of these jobs did not provide any security. In fact, the archaic Working Journalist's Act, 1955 has not yet been amended to cover employees of electronic and other new media.

Participating women journalists also pointed out that the amendments to labour laws and a shift towards contractual employment in the post-liberalisation phase has also led to an overall shrinkage of employment benefits, including maternity benefits for women.

In such a scenario, more women are being forced into contract arrangements and freelancing, where salaries are low and irregular. Moreover, the lack of written contracts in many cases makes it difficult for women journalists to demand their rights. At a micro level, basic facilities like toilets, transport facilities for those working on night shifts and crčche arrangements still do not exist in most offices. And this discrimination was seen to extend to a field which has made its presence felt in the recent past , that is, while reporting on conflict. "In a 'one-year-on' story on Kargil, the Army Colonel I was interviewing was more interested in whether I was married and how many children I had!" said Jill McGivering of BBC. She also shared her frustration about the Taliban's refusal to allow her to join a team of journalists going into Afghanistan, only because she was a woman. Added Barkha Dutt of New Delhi Television (NDTV), "When women report from conflict areas, they tend to become stories in themselves and the issue of conflict takes a back seat."

Raising a larger concern about the commodification of war itself, Nivedita Jha, a reporter with the Hindi language newspaper Rashtriya Sahara, Patna, said, "Media has been celebrating war and in many cases inflaming passions during communal riots and tension."

Concurring, Jyoti Punwani, a veteran Mumbai-based reporter said, "Riots are reported only in casualties, the underlying reasons are not highlighted. It doesn't need a special feminine insight for this — merely good journalism!"

At the same time, it was also felt that women journalists can provide a special insight when it comes to reporting on conflict. This was illustrated through an example from the strife-torn North East. "Women in Nagaland said that the presence of the Army as well as armed underground groups contributed to a feeling of insecurity, so women did not go early to the fields or stay back after dark. The shortened working hours reduced food production sharply," said Meghalaya-based journalist Linda Chhakchhuak, providing an insightful perspective on food insecurity in conflict zones.

The seed of the idea which got so many women journalists together had emerged from Bangalore-based journalist Ammu Joseph's book, Women in Journalism: Making News, published in 2000, in which many of the journalists interviewed expressed the need for some kind of follow-up process. Subsequently, Regional Networks emerged in the South, West and the North-East, raising issues of regional relevance.

Some of these issues of regional relevance were discussed during the Workshop in Delhi as well. For instance, participants from Andhra Pradesh and Bihar described how newspapers were appointing 'news sources' in every locality, paying them a pittance, sometimes as low as Rs 300 (1US$ = Rs 48) per month. Besides the exploitation faced by these 'staff' members, professional standards were taking a beating. In fact, in Andhra Pradesh many of these so-called journalists misused the identity cards issued to them by their publications to extort money and information. Another regional issue highlighted during the Workshop was the isolation of the North-East from the rest of the country. "While information is supposed to flow freely, mainstream media is damming information and making it circulate only within the region, while the rest of the country remains ignorant of the North-East unless there is a bomb blast or two. How can we as women journalists help to break this dam and allow information to flow freely?" asked Chhakchhuak.

On a macro level, highlighting the fact that the question, "Whose voice is heard?" remains intact even today, media commentator Margaret Gallagher described the tendency to ignore women or talk about them rather than 'to' or 'through' them. These cultural practices, reflected in news gathering and production need to be changed in order to represent women's voices in the media, she said. "Assumptions about gender are deeply ingrained in the minds of media practitioners and policy makers and change is slow in coming," said Gallagher.

At the end of the workshop, a Network of Women in Media, India, was launched which was seen by many as a significant step forward for women journalists. The Network, which aims to consolidate, strengthen and support women in media, intends to act as a forum for sharing information and resources, perhaps through a website which is proposed to be set up. The Network also aims to promote ethical journalism and ensure accountability of the media.

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Living life fast-forward!
Chetna Banerjee

FOREWARNED, they say, is forearmed. So I believed, earlier.

Countless words of advice and caution had been mouthed by kith and kin to prepare me for one of the biggest events in my life—-motherhood."Be ready for long sleepless nights." "You’re bound to suffer from baby blues." "You’ll get sick of changing diapers.""Just wait. Like us you’ll want to tear your hair when the baby gets cranky."

I tried to forearm myself. I couldn’t let a tiny creature upset my easy-going, unhurried routine.

I practised turning into an owl by watching late-night movies. I stocked myself with heaps of absorbent diapers to save myself from being unhappy at the constant change of nappy.

I was determined not to be caught napp(y)ing. Having done such immaculate planning, there was no reason why my life should not have trotted on at the same leisurely pace as before.

I was wrong. I was totally unprepared for the revolution that has rocked my lifestyle. A creature of leisure like me has suddenly been jerked into fast-forward mode. It is as if a human remote control has accelerated all my motions from a comfortable second gear to a breakneck fourth gear. Where I once used to saunter, now I do a brisk canter. Where I used to sip gingerly, now I gulp hurriedly. Where I was given to lingering, now I am rushing. "One job at a time" was once my credo. Multi-tasking is my latest mantra.

It is not as if I pick up speed gradually as the day proceeds. The morning itself has a supersonic start. The days of slowly sipping a cup of tea and carefully shuffling through the newspapers are a thing of the past. Now I gulp down my morning brew in bang five minutes and can barely proceed beyond newspaper headlines before the baby cries for attention. Such briskness of action was never my virtue even at peak office-going time.

My eating mode has been accelerated from chewing to gobbling. The way the microwave has revolutionised cooking time, my ‘micro-babe’ has transformed my eating time. Having once savoured unhurried, multi-course meals on a well laid-out table, I no longer even enjoy the luxury of sitting at the dining table. Earlier, I used to be among the last to finish a meal. Now I am usually the first. My meal can at best be described as a bite grabbed hastily between cooing to the baby and changing diapers.

I remember that I had once queried a colleague-turned-mother as to why she brought her food to office even in the post-lunch shift. Today, I virtually have to eat my words.

For me, bathing used to be a prolonged ritual to be indulged in at leisure. Now I consider myself lucky if I can have an uninterrupted five minutes under the shower. Earlier, only fervent appeals from my hubby and loud banging on the door could interrupt my long session of bathroom singing, albeit reluctantly. Nowadays I sing a different tune. A full-throated wail from my tiny son has the power to immediately curtail all my musical renderings in the company of bucket and pail.

I’ve begun to gallop even outside the house. Take shopping. First, imagine the heartache a self-confessed shopaholic like me must have suffered at not being able to venture on a shopping spree for the first two months of my motherhood. And when I did so recently, I surprised even myself. "Shop till you drop" was a policy I religiously adhered to in my easy-paced pre-maternity days. I would amble from shop to shop, peer into showroom windows and leisurely munch popcorns as I made my purchases. There was hardly any exhibition in town where I didn’t amble around.

All that is history. Rather than shop, all I do now is hop, into a shop and out. The tearing haste that I display would put even the busiest person in the world to shame. Time was never a constraint for me while shopping. Now I have an unofficial timekeeper in my son. And he is quite an exacting one at that. The period between one feed and the next is the only time he allows me to make my excursions.

Forget the baby’s day out, there’s not even been a Mommie’s day out so far. That’s because my outing is no longer measured in terms of a day but is clocked in minutes .At the end of the day, I wonder whether I am about to become like someone I’ve always scoffed at—-a supermom. Superfast, hyper- efficient and maha cool. I hope not.

Since there is no medal to be won in this marathon called parenting, I’d rather be a steady-paced runner than an ace sprinter. At least, I won’t end up gasping for breath!

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A raw deal, indeed
Raman Mohan

ALTHOUGH globally, women produce more than 50 per cent of humanity's food supply, yet, the stereotype of a farmer continues to be a man. A study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows that in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, women provide up to 80 per cent of staple foods. In Asia, they perform up to 90 per cent of the work in rice fields. After the harvest, rural women are almost entirely responsible for storage, handling, stocking, marketing and processing. Yet, women have virtually no control over incomes generated by farming, the study says.

The report found that "the distinction between the role of men and women has blurred, with women handling all the work while their men are away. But the improved status and recognition that women might logically expect due to their increased responsibilities and workloads have not materialised. As a general rule, rural society still treats them as second-class citizens. For their part, most women continue to accept that it is natural for them to work ever harder, with little material benefit or improvement in status. "It was also found that globally women were working with farm implements designed for men. In Burkina Faso, women said they would like longer handles on their hoes, but their husbands would never allow it. They said that manufacturers should differentiate between the sexes. The report says, "there is a widespread belief that work can be properly performed only if the worker is bent double and armed with a short-handled hoe. This type of cultural conditioning is an obstacle to the introduction of more comfortable long-handled implements, such as jab planters, since working upright is perceived as laziness."

"Unfortunately, as a general rule, manufacturers and importers of tools and implements undertake no market research, have no follow-up links with their clients, do little to ensure that the full range of their wares is available at sales points, and seem to ignore the fact that, nowadays, the main users of their products are women. As a result, many implements, especially animal draught cultivators, are too heavy for females to use. Lighter models of hand-hoe that would make weeding easier for women are unavailable, and blacksmiths devote little time to consulting with their female clients" it adds.

In many countries there are taboos on women working with cattle. But the study found that "there were no taboos against women working with donkeys, since donkeys are seen as low-class animals that involve less initial cost compared with bovines". In some countries where there are no such taboos it was found that women were handicapped by a lack of information and training. "The majority of animal-traction training courses are aimed only at men, despite the fact that it is the women who really need them," the report says.

It was also found that even where government and other agencies tried to focus research on farming women, men resisted because of their mental attitudes. The study said researchers found "a backlash of resentment on the part of men against what they saw as excessive emphasis on women in development programmes. As a result, some countries are developing a 'family focus' for development rather than focusing solely on women."

The FAO study also noted that "with household food security hanging in the balance in many countries, increased productivity and reduced workloads for women could well be central to improving family welfare."

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Milestones yes, but still miles to go...
Tanjit Kaur

WOMEN and girls occupy a pivotal status as far as the prosperity of the family as a unit is concerned. Family welfare and prosperity of the family is influenced by gender indicators/issues, to help us see so as to what extent discrimination prevails vis-a vis male and female.

The level of their development and their decision-making ability in family and other external matters influence the status of women. Independence consists of willfully going out, demonstrating the decision-making ability regarding generating income and creating property and its maintenance and disposal. It also includes choice of life partner, use of contraceptives and freedom to deal with acquaintances and relatives.

In India, the status of women determines the state of her own health and that of the girl child’s within the family. As a result, excessive desire for progeny, poor food, health care, education, income etc. show signs of neglect. A scenario in which a daughter is considered to be a burden and a son is looked upon as a potential source of income and prosperity for the family, gives rise to female foeticide. Recently, various studies have been undertaken to ascertain the discrimination meted out to a woman during mealtimes in her family. Historical findings reveal that female’s intake of nutritious diet is comparatively less than that of males. Experiments conducted in UP, AP and TN reveal the dietary discrimination meted out to females. Girls are given inadequate facilities of healthcare, something that increases their mortality rate. Even with inadequate statistics on women’s health, it has been observed that females are more prone to various diseases as compared to males.

A majority of females obtain medical treatment after the disease takes a cancerous form whereby chances of their survival become oblique. The level of education attained by a female and the state of her health bear a direct and strong relationship to each other. Women organisations have now successfully endeavoured to lessen gender bias and have taken effective measures for their redressals. Women representation in the elected bodies, particularly in Panchyati raj’s three-tier system, is a landmark achievement.

The provision of the Dowry Prohibition Act, setting up of women commissions etc. are all measures taken to help women. The government. has also encouraged establishment of police stations exclusively manned and run by women. Setting up of women banks and other such women -run institutions whose administration and functioning are exclusively vested in women is a healthy indication towards their welfare. The government sector and social organisations will have to join hands for effective coordination and adopt a positive and constructive attitude through media and legislation if they want to make a difference at the grassroot level.

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READERS’ RESPONSE
Achieving wives & ill husbands

THIS refers to "Achieving wives make husbands ill" by Taru Bahl (February 3). Women have always been considered fit to remain confined within four walls. In changing times almost every woman is working and if she gets a better job than her husband, both salary and status wise, it is then that envy starts engulfing her man. The male ego gets bruised and he ends up complaining of health problems and lack of attention on his wife’s part. If their children fare badly in exams, men often thrust the entire blame upon their wires. No matter how educated men are, their mental outlook seems to remain unchanged.

It’s high time men start treating their better halves on a par. It is only then that they’ll realise that women too have an equal right and ability to touch the skies.

Shipra Sharma, Parwanoo

II

Husbands are ill because wives are ‘achieving’. A working wife means to her husband " Wealth invited for ever." An average Indian husband wants to live his life on double strands. he wants his matrimonial life to be conformable as well as his economical life to be safe and sound. An Indian husband never feels ashamed in spending the salary of his wife. Stupid is the wife who surrenders her whole income so that economic affairs could be well regulated in the family.

If the husband has an extra-marital affair, if he indulges in over-drinking, if his health is affected, if he doesn’t succeed in any work, he’ll blame his wife’s neglect for all his failures. He blames his wife for challenging his masculinity. He never looks at the other side. He doesn’t want to understand that being an equal earning member, his wife is trying to reduce the economic burden. The question of his masculinity or his ill-health are forgotten on the day when the wife keeps her salary on her husband’s hand.

What really makes husbands ill is their decreasing dominance in the family. His chances of boasting as karta-dharta of the family declines. A husband has to contribute to the household affairs, unwillingly. This "unwillingness" makes him ill. The pride and ego of a husband compels him to expect better caring, top-class nutrition and all other comforts from his wife, along with her salary. What are the husbands providing to their "salaried-wives?" Perhaps, "a clean bank balance" or "award of neglect." I think, both!

Sumit Sabharwal, Hoshiarpur

III

It is true that working women cannot waste time doing non-productive things around the house, but in spite of this, husbands of today are in search of working women so that they can supplement their income. Working women can correct their husbands because they gain more knowledge about men Non-working housewives do not know the world out of the house. If somebody wants that his son should remain a good man throughout, he must see that he gets a working woman as his wife. A wife becomes a better half only when she is working outside. Otherwise, this world of men often takes women as slaves in the house and behaves indifferently. If a woman is not in a position to keep the kitchen warm, she cannot make her place in the family.

An outsider on entering a house can judge the standard of the wife maintaining the house.

Dalip Singh Wasan, Patiala.

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