Women encounter tough challenges in male-dominant media

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Women are minority in media outlets in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region IKR and the disputed territories yet the volatile situation following covid-19 pandemic and shut down of several media outlets has reduced their presences even more.

Despite the fact that there are no concrete figures how many women work in the media in IKR and the disputed territories, but it is estimated they are less than one fourth and rarely women seen in senior positions in the male dominant sector of media.

The syndicate of journalists in Kurdistan says not all those who work for the media outlets are registered by them so it is hard to determine how many women work for media sector.

Sulaymaniyah branch of the syndicate says one fourth of the members of the syndicate in Sulaymaniyah are women.

Karwan Anwar, secretary of the syndicate in Sulaymaniyah, estimates approximately one quarter of the 8,000 journalists registered as members of syndicate of Journalists in Sulaymaniyah are female.

"There are fewer women in media outlets and senior media positions not only in Kurdistan region but all over Iraq and the number is decreasing," Anwar believes.

Anwar believes there are several factors behind the decline of women presence in the media scene in the male-dominant society.

"In the past, women participation in the media was better. Nowadays, media institutions do not take gender balance into consideration. All the media establishments are founded by men and they runt it by themselves. All the staff are men and the mentality of the administration is male dominant."

Nowadays, media institutions do not take gender balance into consideration

The head of the syndicate in Sulaymaniyah said there are no accurate statistics about presence of women in Kurdistan region but "in an open city like Sulaymaniyah, it's below 25% and the majority are men. The rate in Sulyamaniyah is the highest in Iraq which means the ground is not suitable for women journalists to join the media."

He blames the syndicate and organizations advocating for freedom of press and freedom for women.

"Once women participation in the media is low, syndicate of journalists all over the world solve all the problems to restore gender balance while here the syndicate played no role."

Role of women declining in the media 

Several media outlets were taken as samples for this report in Garmiyan region south of Suaimaniyah and the disputed territories. Despite their different political orientations, all the women were sharing the same shortage of low presentation of women.

In Kirkuk TV channel in Kirkuk funded by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan PUK, which advocates for democracy and rights of women, presence of women is 15% and no department is run by women.

Shiwan Dawudi, director of Kirkuk TV, said, "We have no guidelines about gender balance but women work in the newsroom, production and as correspondents and anchors."

Out of 250 employees, less than 40 women work for the channel, Dawudi added.

"Family, community and instability in Kirkuk are all barriers in face of women in the media and women are capable to work for media if barriers are lifted."

Only one member of the six journalists is woman in the editorial staff of Payam TV in Kalar. The channel follows no gender balance strategy.

On the other side, some media outlets follow a minimum quota as gender balance.

Most of the staff are women in Dang Radio, a local radio station in Halabja established in 2005 as the strategy imposes 75% women presence in the station.

A local radio station follows 75% women presence in the station

Shirin Abdulla, a pseudonym for a female journalist in Dang Radio, anonymously said men who run the media foundations "are barrier in face of women and marginalize them."

"I have been working for more than ten years for several TV channels, websites and radio stations and faced lots of challenges and never given a fair chance. It if was not my love for media, I would have quit long time ago."

"The director was practicing gender and payment discrimination because Kurdish media is male-dominant and give no chance to women in addition to the social stigma caused by negative comments and improper photos sent to us via social media platforms."

She believes that role of women is undermined gradually as they have no senior postion or decision making and only men have the final say.

"My boss never cared about my views and topics. He stopped my show providing political awareness to the audience saying my show was a threat for the media outlet and I was opposing the political parties."

Shirin said that her carrier has ruined her private life and personality as well.

Khanaqin, a paper monthly published in Kalar district of Sulaimaniyah Khanaqin, Jalawla, Kifri, districts of Diyala and Kirkuk provinces, has only one woman journalist out of five-member editorial team.

In Madaniyat radio station of Khanaqin, one woman is among the 9 journalists and in Dang Radio of Kalar, 2 out of six are female.

Hasan Ahmed Bapir, director of Madaniyat Radio, said beside social and family restrictions, "few women are keen to work for the media and economic crisis in the last years was another factor."

Zainab Hussein Mousa, International media and journalism agency under Iraqi journalists union which trains young journalists, said the decline of women presence in the media "is dangerous as they are not given senior positions as editor-in-chief, editorial director or member of board."


Photo from Monkhouse Law 

Mousa syas she has spent the 17 last years working for the media and never had the chance to become a director or head of newsroom.

"I was editor-in-chief for a free paper but men working for political parties created obstacles for me and forced me to shut the paper."

100% male-dominant

Diler Karim, member of Garmiyan for syndicate of journalists in Kalar said only 20 memebrs are registered and all are male while in the pat there were 200 members and there were 2 women journalists but they quit.

Karim says despite all the media outlets in the region as papers, websites, radio stations and TV channels, most of the employees are men.

"Majority of the staff are men and all the women quit following Covid-19 pandemic."

He encouraged women to report their cases once they face any violation.

Sexual harassment: come to my office once you finish your shift

Sexual harassment is a nightmare for most of female journalists as it is hard for them to express it and feel oppressed as they can't prove it.

Renas Salih, a journalist from Kalar working for Nawzhin newspaper, issued by women and covering women affairs, recalls how security forces assaulted her while making a story back in August 2010.

"There was a big crowd of hundreds of people. I immediately thought what people say about me? They will think I have done something shameful. The security forces said they will not push me into their vehicle and vulgarly asked me to walk quickly to the station though I told them I am a journalist and showed them my journalism ID."

Salih contacts her boss who makes phone calls and manages to release her before going to the station.

Another challenge for Salih was "some directors of state offices who were not ready to talk during working hours and asked to meet them in the afternoon in order to talk however they like and harass me. I knew their intentions and never made it there for a quote."

Some directors of state offices who were not ready to talk to during working hours, asked to meet in the afternoon in order to talk however they like and harass me

Countable women in the media: A real crisis

Though number of women in the media was low from the early beginning, but it has reached its lowest in the last years.

The war against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria ISIS, events of October 17th in the disputed territories where Iraqi forces ousted Kurdish forces, and other factors has led to closure of many media institutes and tens of women journalists have ended jobless.

Amal Bajalan, director of syndicate of journalists in Khanaqin, said 160 journalists and 15 media outlets were registered in Kahanqin ahead of War against ISIS.

"Now there are only 68 journalists, and two of them are women. Only 2 of the 15 media outlets are operating: Madaniyat Radio and Khanaqin paper. Gali Kurdistan TV GK of PUK has two men representatives in Khanaqin," she added.

Amal agrees the syndicate is incapable of providing support for women journalists because it is marginalized by Baghdad and Erbil and consequently "less chances of journalistic positions for women in particular."

"Iraqi and Kurdish press laws are full of gaps and shortcomings and has to be amended.

Women to be blamed

Contrary to approach of marginalization of women in the male-dominant media sector, some observers criticize women for showing no interest in the media.

Zimnako Yahya, a well-known journalist in Garmiyan who works for Esta website, thinks that women themselves were not keen to work for media "because they think it hard and tough and prefer a simple carrier or get married and stay at home."

"It's true that there are talented women journalists but they are countable and not reached a higher position. They mainly serve either as anchor or correspondent. They should be confident of their talents because media is not only a male career."

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