Women in Journalism
“The perks of being a female journalist?”
“Perks? Are there any? Show me the way,” said Evi Mariani.
In a world that is arguably dominated by men, there are a lot of challenges for female journalists to survive. So, to commemorate the Kartini's Day in April, Telum talked to several inspiring female journalists about women in journalism in Indonesia.
April in Indonesia is fuelled with an atmosphere of excitement and courage, especially when school kids dress up in kebaya or other traditional costumes to celebrate the heroine of women empowerment, Raden Ajeng Kartini, on 21st April.
Kartini is considered as Indonesia’s pioneer in the area of women's rights as her letters to her pen friends in the Netherlands were seen as the dawn of the women’s emancipation movement in Indonesia, which remains a battle to be fought in Indonesia.
After more than a century since Kartini marked her steps on Indonesia history, the nation is still facing tough challenges in promoting women’s emancipation or even gender equality. Media can be a tool for this goal, but unfortunately, many outlets are still biased towards issues of gender and diversity.
“The majority of mainstream media in Indonesia still treat women as sexual objects or as property," said the Editor-in-Chief of Magdalene.co, Devi Asmarani. "For example, when reporting about female politicians, the coverage is not about their achievements, but the headlines would be like: 'Here are the five most beautiful female politicians in Indonesia'. Another frequently asked question to female politicians: 'Do you still have time to raise with your kids?' You don’t do this to male politicians!”
“Even dead women are still being sexualised. For example, in the news of rape and murder of women, often the headline is: ‘Beautiful woman’s body found in sewers’. They made it like being beautiful is the cause of her being raped and killed.”
That's not the only problem. In the editorial room, gender equality is also an ongoing debate in a world that is arguably dominated by male and has a culture that disadvantaged women with its tradition of long and irregular hours.
“Women in journalism, just like women everywhere, face more challenges than their male counterparts,” said Evi Mariani of The Jakarta Post.
“In journalism, some of us face at least mild harassment from some of the sources or even fellow journalists. But in my personal experience, the difficult challenge is juggling between family and career especially after I have my son in 2013. Once a female Journalist decides to have a child, her career will be put on hold for a long time. That is not the case at all for men.”
Agreeing with Evi on the struggle of juggling between work and family is also mentioned by Desi Fitriani. She argues it is one of the toughest challenges for female journalists.
“There are lots of female journalists but usually once they’ve got married, lots of them decide to leave or find another job,” said the Metro TV’s Executive Producer. “The uncertainty and unpredictable working hours of a Journalist forces female journalists to choose between work and family.”
Apart from the family reason, there are also other challenges that female journalists have to deal with.
“Women today are more critical and braver to speak than ever, which is a good thing. But basically, I think women journalists in Indonesia face two challenges. First, sometimes women journalists are underestimated by their news sources or even their own colleagues. Secondly, they are also vulnerable to sexual violence or harassment, as I have also experienced,” added Devi.
“However, there are now many organisations that support women, so they can help to report if women journalists become victims. We should never let our femininity and gender limit us.”
“If they can do it, then I can do it”
Though the struggles are real, it doesn’t mean there are no female journalists at the top. Based on the top 20 media ranking in Indonesia (on monthly web visits), three media outlets are actually led by female journalists.
Iin Yumiyanti leads Detik.com, while Zulfiani Lubis and Yoko Sari head the editorial team of IDN Times and CNNIndonesia.com respectively. And apart from the online media business, there are also lots of respectable female journalists out there including the well known Najwa Shihab and her Mata Najwa programme, Rosiana Silalahi at Kompas TV, Desi Anwar of CNN Indonesia TV, Ninuk Pambudi from KOMPAS daily, Hermien Y. Kleden from TEMPO, and many more.
So how do they do it? How do they overcome the challenges and prove that journalism - or anything else - shouldn’t be limited by gender?
“I’ve received different treatment on several occasions especially verbally, like when someone says, 'Why that woman doing this kind of reportage?', or when I was ‘forced’ to back off physically during a doorstop interview,” voiced Vriana Indriasari, the Editor-in-Chief of Rumah123.com
“But I never give up, the more people underestimated me, the more I want to prove them wrong. Until now, I always think if they can do it, then I can do it. And it works!”