The unheard voices: atrocities faced by female journalists in Bangladesh

The Unheard Voices: Atrocities Faced by Female Journalists in Bangladesh. Picture: File

The Unheard Voices: Atrocities Faced by Female Journalists in Bangladesh. Picture: File

Published Feb 27, 2024


Farhana Haque Nila

In the vibrant world of journalism, where truth seekers and storytellers are revered, Bangladesh has seen a glaring oversight of its female journalists. Despite their unwavering dedication and contributions to the field, woman journalists in the country continue to face systemic neglect and discrimination. This article delves into the heart-wrenching stories of women who have been unfairly treated and dismissed, shedding light on the dark side of the media industry in Bangladesh.

While the stories of discrimination and injustice are disheartening, there are woman journalists like Farhana Haque Nila, Afroza Sarkar, and others who have displayed unwavering determination and resilience in the face of adversity. They have continued their journalistic pursuits, seeking opportunities abroad and refusing to let the patriarchal society and the media industry stifle their passion.

Let us meet the diverse array of journalists who have shared their stories and insights with us.

January 10, 2020, was the day Nazneen Lucky’s dreams turned to ashes. That was the day that the staff reporter at a private TV station in Bangladesh lost her job.

Lucky shared her story, saying: “I had dedicated eight years to this organisation. Then, out of the blue, the administration told me: ‘We no longer require your services.’ Naturally, I enquired why, to which the administrative officer replied: ‘Our organisation is incurring losses.’”

With tears welling up in her eyes, Nazneen recounted: “At that time, I was pregnant, and my parents were elderly. My family was dependent on me economically. I endured those challenging months during my pregnancy. I pray that such hardships never befall anyone else.”

Another such heartbreaking incident happened to journalist Suraiya Munni, of an established private TV channel.

She said: “I have been working in this organisation for a long time as a senior reporter. Suddenly during 2020, the Covid-19 lockdown, authorities cut my salary in half. ‘If you don’t want to do it, you have to resign,’ they said.

“In such an unfavourable situation, I looked at the faces of my two children and agreed to work for half the salary. Since then, I am being pressured in various ways to resign on my own initiative. Finally, to save my reputation, I have resigned from the job.”

The situation of media in Bangladesh in the past 3 years:

While in 2022, 32.8% of Bangladesh women and girls in general have experience sexual violence in the workplace, a survey of 100 Bangladeshi woman journalists have found that 71% had faced sexual harassment at work.

Ahmed Fayez, the chief editor of Our Media Our Rights and a journalist with New Age Magazine, revealed the staggering impact on news media workers.

He said: “To date, more than 4 000 news media employees have lost their jobs. Approximately 1 200 have been directly terminated including about 100 woman journalists across the country. (The male-female journalist ratio stands at 80%-20%). Additionally, there are approximately 50 women journalists who, out of shame and fear, choose to remain silent in the face of dismissals.

The picture of woman journalists in Bangladesh:

  • In the media industry, men dominate and women are rarely seen at the policy-making stage.
  • Women are not kept in the post of head of news or news editor.
  • Somewhere, women are being sexually abused by their colleagues.
  • Women’s salaries are lower than men’s.
  • Women are not entitled to a six-month maternity leave.
  • Some organisations do not employ female journalists.
  • Transport is not provided during night duty.

The situation of woman journalists in Bangladesh:

President of the Bangladesh Women Journalists Centre Naismun Ara Haque Minu said: “The presence of women in the media is increasing day by day in Bangladesh. But the statistics are also negligible compared to men. That picture is seen in the number of members of Bangladeshi journalistic organisations such as National Press Club, Dhaka Reporters Unity, Dhaka Journalists Union and Women Journalist Center.

“Out of 7 218 journalists, only 1 526 are woman journalists. In spite of this, women are leaving the journalism profession due to various types of deprivation. Which is very disappointing for Bangladesh.”

Violence against women journalists in Bangladesh

Farhana Haque Nila lost her job because she filed a sexual harassment case against her company’s joint news editor.

She said: “In 2019, I approached the joint news editor in charge to edit one of my scripts. He kept giving me bad proposals again and again without looking at the script. At one stage, I turned on the video recording on my pocket mobile and asked him to watch the script. And recorded his bad proposals on mobile and file a case in court. Later, my company fired me. And till now no media in Bangladesh is hiring me.’’

A 2021 survey by the South Asia Article 19 showed that of the woman journalists surveyed and who had been physically abused at some point, 72% never told anyone about it. When asked why they did not tell anyone, nearly 40% said they did not think it was necessary. And for those who protested, their journalistic career was cut short.

What could be the solution to unfairly dismissing woman journalists?

Faruq Faisel, the executive director at Ain O Shalish Kendra and former regional director at Article 19 South Asia, said: “Article 19 has taken up a pilot project to provide financial assistance to temporarily unemployed woman journalists. But internationally, foreign countries need to look into this. And the women of Bangladesh should be given the opportunity to work.’’

Faisel is aware that the programme is merely a band-aid solution.

“The unjust dismissal of journalists must be stopped,’’ he said. The government had to take the initiative in that regard.

President of the Bangladesh Women Journalists Centre Naismun Ara Haque Minu said a sexual harassment prevention cell should be set up in every media house to implement the high court’s order to stop sexual harassment in the workplace.

Some Women of Courage

Despite the deprivations, many female journalists in Bangladesh are fighting and surviving in their profession.

In April 2013, Nadia Sharmin, who was then a staff reporter at Ekushey Television, was covering a rally organised by fundamentalists who wanted to ban “men and women mixing in public”.

Sharmin’s employer refused to cover her medical expenses. Instead, she said, “they forced me to quit my job (by not giving me my salary) for eight months.”

Undaunted, Sharmin is back on her feet. She is a staff reporter at Ekattor Media. In 2015, Sharmin received an International Woman of Courage award from the US State Department for her “bravery in the face of condemnation, threats, and physical violence”.

Farhana Nila aid: “As the case regarding sexually harassment and injustice on me is under court, it has been hard for me to get a new job in the male-dominated Bangladesh media. But I did not give up and I continued to develop my skill.

“Now I am doing internationally freelance journalism. And won the Asia Journalism Fellowship 2022, Internews Let’s Talk Vaccines South Asia Media Fellowship 2023 and the International Journalist and Writer’s Forum Scholarship 2023.’’

On September 24, 2021, journalist Afroza Sarkar, of Rangpur Division, was attacked. On that day, the new committee of the Rangpur Reporters Club was elected and Afroza got the post of editor, terrorists set up an ambush for her. they tore her clothes from here body and beat her.

By presenting the evidence on Facebook, the powers that be filed a digital case against Afroza. Afroza is appearing in court as a defendant in that case. But her journalistic pen did not stop. She is working in Dhaka as a sub-editor at Daily Alokita Bangladesh.

Some new and expanded actions suggested to be added to the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) and the Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc):

We, woman journalists of Bangladesh, want a commitment and partnership that is impartial, fair and fruitful. Let young people like us participate. Also, some rules should be added to the arrangement:

  • Woman journalists in Bangladesh want Ecosoc to adopt a separate policy on media issues, not including gender or human rights. In that case, woman journalists who are unemployed and fired for various reasons should be given the opportunity to participate and express their opinions.
  • Membership in the HLPF or Ecosoc is held by government-affiliated individuals. That should change. Due to which the real information is not disclosed. There should also be a system of selection of members from former political or opposition political parties.

Finally, female journalists in Bangladesh are waiting for the day an effective law will be made, where there will be no discrimination between male and female journalists.

They say it is not known when the outlook of the country will be fixed or if it will be fixed at all. They are seeking the co-operation of foreign news agencies.

Farhana Haque Nila is a Bangladeshi multimedia journalist who writes mainly about human rights. She works at News Now Bangla online portal and is an independent writer for Asia Democracy Chronicle.

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