Kiran Nazish’s career as a journalist spans nearly two decades and numerous countries, including her native Pakistan, as well as India, Afghanistan, Nepal, and a stint in the newsroom at the New York Times. Unfortunately, one unifying characteristic of the journalism industry she experienced across cultures was the difficulty she and other women faced reaching the top of their profession.
It was clear to Nazish that nobody was going to help women unless they help each other, so in March 2017 she and her partners founded the Coalition For Women In Journalism, an organization that provides mentoring to women journalists by connecting them all over the world. The coalition has chapters in countries throughout Latin America and Asia.
“The need for this kind of coalition has subconsciously always been there,” Nazish told Lady Liberty. “It was something I inherently understood when I entered journalism. Across all different industries, not just journalism, you see women working and having a certain status at those jobs, but they are not on an equal footing with the men.”
The coalition matches mid-level career journalists with mentors who can help them with whatever issue they’re facing. Some seeking support need help writing pitches, others with mechanics of the craft like storytelling. Some are looking for safety tips when reporting from dangerous places, or are facing imprisonment, harassment by officials, or sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment is a big issue for women in journalism,” said Nazish. “We did surveys, and on average I would say that over 60 percent of women in journalism face sexual harassment of different kinds: in the field, from sources, and in the newsrooms from bosses and colleagues.”
Mentors and their partners agree to work together for at least three months, but Nazish says pairs usually stay in touch and continue to help each other long after that. The coalition opens the call for new members to the program twice per year, but is always ready to provide emergency assistance if needed.
One of the journalists taking part in the program is Ans Boersma, a Dutch freelancer working as a correspondent for Het Financieele Dagblad from Istanbul, Turkey.
“I have more challenges in Turkey than in Netherlands, because there are of course cultural issues,” said Boersma. “But also, in Turkey, you as a journalist are not very safe, so that already comes with a lot of pressure. And having that pressure along with the pressures you are facing with the newsroom and being a female, that’s a lot together.”
Boersma says taking part in the coalition, either as a mentor or mentee, is especially helpful for journalists working in countries without a free press, but that women journalists everywhere can benefit from the program.
“In the Netherlands, we teach students how to ask for help, but traveling the world, it seems women journalists don’t talk to each other much, and I really think it is important for women to start talking about the issues they face,” she said.
Nazish says that despite a majority of journalism school graduates being women and the fact that American and European newsrooms are full of women, few of them become editors or rise in the newsroom hierarchy, they win fewer awards, they are generally less recognized for their work, and they are given less prominent assignments.
“The women won’t be covering the crime, they won’t be covering difficult political parties or terrorism. Instead, they’ll be sitting on a women’s desk, doing health reporting or education,” she said, adding that inevitably, after a few years in the profession, many women either burn out or fall into a rut.
“Instead competing with each other in a male-created, male-dominated environment,” Nazish said, “we want to empower women by empowering each other.”