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Finding their voice - the women bringing parity to Pakistan's media


To increase women's participation; these four words, written down in four seconds, in a proposal can take months, if not years to achieve.

Especially, when the context is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province in north western Pakistan, where women make up almost an equal share of society (49%) but are far away from equity. Newsrooms remain male-dominated, 10% are women on average, which results in male editorial agendas and male protagonists in stories or interviews sharing their perspectives of life.

At the start of our Valley Voices project, a similar picture could be drawn for our partner TNN, the Tribal News Network based in Peshawar where contributions by women writers stood at 10% and two out of 11 staff in the newsroom were women.

Through training and involving more women over the past three years, women's contributions have increased by 40% and the ratio to men in the newsroom is closer to parity, 38.5% at the time of publication.

Measuring Success Such was the phenomenal response to our Valley Voices project; it was extended twice. Funded by the German Federal Foreign Office through ifa (Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations) as part of the Zivik funding programme, the result, after three years, is that more women living in a traditional, male-dominated remote district of Pakistan have found their voices. Women have been able to access journalism training and management roles as well as news which relates to them.

We're not just talking about the women journalists we helped to train with our partner Tribal News Network (TNN), but the audience themselves. Women living in KP's Mardan district were asked directly what stories they wanted and needed to hear, the outcome included radio shows for women on issues like health and education and a wealth of everyday stories that included a woman's point of view.

Amna Istemrajs story

I decided to become a journalist in 2019 after finishing secondary education.

At the start it was quite tough because I come from an extremely conservative background. Whilst my parents were very supportive, my uncle, aunts and grandparents were all against my decision.

For the last four years I've worked as a multimedia journalist, covering major topics which are considered taboo in our society such as interfaith harmony, women, land inheritance and female heroes. I've also covered climate change, recently working on the issue of flooding and how it's affecting the lives of women.

Now, when my family see my stories on social media, they are proud and everyone in the family has started supporting me. I like being a journalist because the job has introduced me to people and communities I would never have met otherwise. I like telling their stories and feel honoured that they trust me to do so.

As a woman journalist working in a conservative area, I want to give credit to Tribal News Network who have supported me all along and provided me with opportunities and training that I never imagined. They have worked really hard to polish my skills and I owe my success to them.

"I like telling their stories and feel honoured that they trust me to do so."

Amna Istemraj, a trainee and TNN journalist

The Domino effect: TNN has successively grown its women contributor's network, initially with young, aspiring citizen reporters like Amna, who were keen to pick up practical skills in radio production and digital storytelling after their theory-laden journalism degrees. They were joined in 2022 by women bloggers, literate and educated, full of thoughts and opinions that they want to share but confined to their households.

Making women visible in the media, as reporters as well as effective and accomplished citizens has had a ripple effect on other women. In 2022 alone, 27 women approached TNN asking if and how they can get involved.

The Maverick effect: TNN started out as a radio station in 2013. It has become digital-first since then but knows of the power of radio in rural areas with low literacy rates. The team discovered quickly that the reflective blog format would lend itself well for audio storytelling.

The 40 blog posts produced by women over a six-month production phase in 2022 were professionally recorded with the help of female voice artists and first published on Facebook and YouTube before turned into podcasts on Soundcloud, a new platform for TNN.

The devastating floods coincided with this phase, reinforcing the importance of audio recordings and making these first-hand accounts a valuable resource on the supply situation and issues, especially for marginalised groups such as pregnant women and children.

The blogs have inspired TNN to work with a new format, podcasting, which is true to their mission of providing independent and reliable information that empowers local communities in KP Province and that takes its radio expertise into the digital world. It has also opened up access to one of its target groups - illiterate women - who may seek an education after learning that other women have done the same.

Women's visibility To increase women's participation, there is the need for women's visibility, which has proven to be the biggest motor of motivation in our project. And of course, the motivation from our partner TNN to tackle this inequality in the first place.

Read more about our valley Voices from our latest annual review: Access All Areas

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