Courage is not gender-specific

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Courage is not gender-specific

There have been several inspiring stories of women journalists who defied the odds and made a mark in their profession

One of the common unwisdoms of our time is that women cannot do many things that men can. It has been busted innumerable times by women who have broken through the glass ceiling despite heavy odds, won the Nobel Prize and literary, scientific, academic and other awards for excellence, climbed the Everest, sailed oceans on wind power, flown planes, including during combats, fought wars, ran police forces, and done outstanding work. Name it, and they have done it. Yet the myth persists. Male chauvinism dies hard.

Women journalists in several parts of the world have taken long strides since the sixties and the seventies of the last century when there were not many of them in newspaper offices — radio and television were still Government monopolies and the mouthpieces of the powers-that be — and those that were there were given ‘soft’ assignments like covering flower shows, beauty contests, fashion parades, cookery exhibitions and so on. While many of them are still landed with these, women journalists are now also assigned the coverage of domestic political, international, defence, legal and other ‘serious’ news — as well as violent events like war, terrorism, insurgency and so on. It has been the same with investigative journalism, long thought to have been a male bastion.

Women have been covering wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and so on, human rights violations and governmental repression, sometimes savage, in many troubled parts, besides riots and civil commotion. In India, they were at the forefront of the reporting of the 59-hour violence and gunfights between terrorists and security forces that followed the terror strikes in Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

Needless to say, in all these and many other cases, women have done as well, and in many other cases even better, than their male counterparts. This is remarkable. While men too face danger and threats to their lives while reporting such events, women face the additional threat of sexual violence. As Nupur Basu said during an interview, if a journalist who is a man and another who is a woman are kidnapped by the Taliban, they will just shoot the man out of hand if he refuses to do what they want him to, but rape and then shoot the woman journalist, or just rape and leave her somewhere.

There is also the difficulty of balancing home and work. The film provides only passing glimpses of this. Its main focus is on the challenges they face at work from Governments and opposition forces. But it is a problem nevertheless, which weighs heavily on their work where they have, in any way, do much more than men to go the same places. There are some which remain beyond them even today. Not one of what are known as national newspapers or magazines has had a woman editor.

Hence the importance of a film like the Velvet Revolution, the work of five women directors from four different countries — Illang Illang Quijano (Philippines); Deepika Sharma (India); Pochi Tamba Nsoh and Sidonie Pongmoni (Cameroon); and Eva Brownstein (the US / Bangladesh). It was supported by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) and guided, put together and presented by its executive producer and project director, Nupur Basu, who herself is an independent journalist and documentary film-maker.

It tells the story of women journalists from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Syria and Cameroon, who brave daunting challenges and threats from the authorities, mobs and a variety of other sources to present a true picture of the situation on the ground. Several of them have had to pay a heavy price for doing that they are doing. Zaina Erhaim of Syria has to live in exile in South Turkey. Malini Subramaniam had to leave Chhattisgarh. Kimberlie Ngabit-Quitasol's coverage the trampling of indigenous rights and development-induced displacement in the Philippines, have brought her team have to face threats from the Government.

One can go on citing examples and writing more about the film. The temptation needs to be curbed. People must see the film and not be told about it. This goes especially for men.

(The writer is Consultant Editor of The Pioneer and an author)

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