By Dilshani Kariyawasam
Long working hours, daily deadline pressure, threats, risks, inadequate salary, and the list goes on: These are some of the common features characterising Sri Lankan journalism which is not even recognized as a ‘profession’. One feature that is lacking here, of course, is harassment against female journalists which is rearing its ugly head at an alarming rate. A special country report issued by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in 2015 revealed that almost 29% of Sri Lankan female journalists have experienced sexual harassment in the work place. Let us look at this issue from the viewpoint of female journalists themselves.
Let’s call our first informant Nadeera (names changed). Her wish to remain anonymous quite ironically problematizes the ‘freedom of expression’ within media itself. Nadeera used to work at a reputed, Colombo-based, newspaper company as a freelance journalist in the English section.
“I was a fresher just after A/Ls. There was a pion in his mid-thirties used to work at the office who seemed very friendly. One day when I was refilling my container he brushed his hand across my buttocks as if it was by accident. I also thought it was a mistake. But another day when I was walking along a corridor this man came right at me as if he didn’t have space to move. This time I knew he was up to no good.”
Nadeera made the mistake most women would do in such situations. She kept silent out of embarrassment and ironically out of fear of been penalised by her co-workers.
“Looking back, I feel ashamed of myself for not taking actions against what happened to me. I didn’t reveal this to anyone, not even to my friends or co-workers. I didn’t want any trouble coming my way.”
She went on to talk about a similar experience faced by one of her senior female colleagues. “She was a senior journalist who quit the company due to workplace politics. She was transferred to a different department and one of the deputy editors started harassing her verbally and emotionally. He was a middle aged married man. And she was a young woman in her late twenties. She quit her job because she couldn’t handle it any longer.”
“The pion who harassed me quit his job for some reason. But no serious actions were taken against the deputy editor who harassed my colleague and forced her to leave the newspaper.”
Another informant, Fatima (name changed), highlighted an interesting aspect of harassment against women. “Lot of the time, women, especially the senior ones, criticise victims of harassment if they report the incident. This is very rare among the younger journalists though. I think women need to encourage each other to fight harassment. Women need to help other women to make a change.”
There are several important facts that can be inferred from this account. Lot of the time, harassments against women take the form of sexual violence. Often than not, female journalists tend to remain silent about harassments they face out of humiliation and fear of been ostracized by their co-workers and authorities. Even if they did report these incidents, not enough actions are taken against the perpetrators who are at the top rungs of the administration. Thus, female journalists become doubly victimised; not only have they become victims of harassment but also the victims of public ridicule. As suggested by Fatima, in order to fight harassment against women, women themselves need to stand up for each other.