Estd. 2006
Pioneering digital journalism in Gilgit-Baltistan

Lubna Jerar Naqvi

IN THE male-dominated media environment of northern Pakistan, women in journalism are often marginalised by their families, colleagues, and the media community. In an exclusive interview, freelance journalist Shereen Karim shares her experiences, challenges and aspirations as a freelancer woman journalist in Gilgit, writes Lubna Jerar Naqvi. 

Shereen is one of the few women journalists working in a conservative society. She holds an MSc degree in Media and Communications and Journalism and has been working as a journalist for eight years.  

Shereen is a freelance journalist and mostly covers stories with a focus on gender-based violence and women’s issues, especially stories around working women, social issues, and climate change. She has done features for Independent Urdu, investigative stories for the Pakistan Press Foundation, and has also commissioned vlogs for BBC Urdu. 

“I never planned to join journalism; I came into this profession by chance. At that time there were no other women journalists working in the field,” Shereen said. “There was one woman journalist who worked in the entire Gilgit-Baltistan, and she worked from home, only going to the office once or twice a week.”  

While societal change in Gilgit-Baltistan is slow, the number of women journalists has increased from one to three. Shereen added, “Slowly the number increased to three, but even then, I was the only one working outdoors in the field. It was quite a strange experience working in the field as the only woman journalist among so many men – it is a rare thing to see a woman working in the field.”  

She admits she felt strange working as the only woman in the field. Through her career she’s had to face some problems at the beginning when the men didn’t cooperate with her or accept her.  

The male journalists sometimes cause problems for women journalists, making it difficult for them to complete their work. “It is up to us to tackle and handle the situation in a way that doesn’t offend anyone’s sensibilities and respects the local traditions. Many men tell women journalists, to sit at home or get married, or join a government job which is considered respectable. Adding to this, as a freelancer I don’t get paid well and sometimes not at all, but I can’t tell my family as they will make me leave journalism and sit at home.”  

However, Shereen has not been deterred from journalism, and she is determined to keep doing her job as she is the only one who can speak up for the women in her area. 

“I began my career working for Ausaf – a newspaper - reporting and feature writing. And then I moved to another newspaper because I was not given a salary. I joined Daily Salam - a local newspaper of Gilgit – and worked there for some time. They did not pay me either. That was a big issue, but this was not because of my gender, none of the journalists are paid regardless of their gender. Some reporters got a nominal pay.” 

At this time Gilgit did not have access to digital media, and newspapers were the only place where journalists could find work. Realising early that digital media was going to take over the media scene, Shereen began working for digital outlets, but even they didn’t pay. So, she set up her own digital platform. 

“I have set up my own digital platform called Woman TV GB. It is a web channel on YouTube, linked to other social platforms. My friend and I work on generating content for this and we upload news that basically focuses on the issues of women in the area. Apart from this I also set up my personal vlogging channel called Sheen TV. And I report on climate change stories through the gender lens.”  

Even though there are few woman journalists in the region, Shereen is not a member of her press club. 

“I am not a permanent member of the press club but an associated member. The press club has not given me a permanent membership as the press club requires an appointment letter to ascertain whether one is a journalist and since I don’t work for a newspaper or broadcast channel, I am not given the membership. The newspapers I worked for were not paying me, so they didn’t give me an appointment letter.” 

Shereen doesn’t get money for her work and the little she does is not enough to support her or her journalism. So, she looks for grants to pay for her work. “I look for grants or fellowships that pay for a story, that’s how I work. I focus on gender or climate issues; the problem is that we don’t get a lot of data on these topics and so it becomes difficult to do these stories.” 

She added that working in a conservative society as a journalist is tough enough, as she has a lot of chores around the house that she is expected to complete before to avoid excuses preventing her from working. 

“Digital media has helped to get our stories out there, but I don’t earn from my digital platforms yet. I am trying to monetise my channels,” Shereen said. 

She added, “When I worked for the newspaper, I had to find a way to travel to other areas to get a story. As there is no transport available in which women can travel in our area, it is difficult to commute. If I want to cover some story far away it is quite troublesome going there. The public transport is not that good and there is a lot of harassment in that as well.” 

Shereen is planning to save up and buy a car to help, “I am planning to buy a car so that I have my own transport so I can report on stories that are far away from my area. I also want to set up an office for my channel to not only highlight women’s issues and voices but also provide other women journalists and media students a safe media outlet to work in.” 

Speaking about harassment and sexual harassment, Shereen said, “I have not faced any major sexual harassment in the workplace but like other women, I also face the general kind of harassment. In our areas, any women working outside their homes are targeted more. I have never sought help if I am harassed and have tackled it myself. Online I have blocked a lot of people and generally ignore harassers.”  

She has been part of some international trainings organised by South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation and was selected twice to attend the training session in Nepal, where she said she learned many new things and improved her skills to report better. 

“I learned to make documentaries and with the foreign exposure I got due to traveling abroad, I became confident, and it helped me to work harder and survive as a journalist.”  

Shereen Karim is a pathfinder who is not only finding a path for herself but also making one for those who will follow. 

(Lubna Jerar Naqvi is a freelance journalist and the Pakistan Gender Coordinator of the IFJ Asia Pacific)

March 31 2023