Female Journalists: Why the Low Show! [Archives:1997/52/Viewpoint]

December 29 1997

As a person who claims to promote career women, I sometimes feel ashamed that my company, the Yemen Times, can only boast 21% of its journalists to be female. This is neither the way we planned it, nor the way we want it. There are very rational reasons why we cannot employ more women on our workforce. Let me share some:
1. There are not as many qualified Yemeni female journalists in the market as there are male journalists. So, when we advertize for a post, the majority of the applicants are male. We try to push the female applicants, if they qualify enough. 2. Most Yemeni females, especially those who come from the northern regions, wear a veil. They are restricted in their activities. The veil itself becomes a hindrance, even if the newspaper and its staff try to bear with it. 3. Yemeni female journalists cannot jump at any time to follow a story as it breaks. They cannot be called on at odd times of the day, they are less free to travel (at least alone), and they are less able to follow-up a story that involves mixed company. 4. Yemeni female journalists cannot be called on to pursue a story that has the possibility of a violent twist. Stories about kidnapping, smuggling, shoot-outs, etc., are not the type that a female journalist would like to cover. 5. An important stage of the development of a story, especially for filling-in information, is done in qat chews. Female journalists feel extremely awkward in such an environment. Thus they miss out on the juicy details being spilled out.
Those are some of my reasons why the Yemen Times has a small number of female journalists. I feel they are objective and rational. The Yemeni Government, NGOs, foreign aid donors and other parties who are interested in promoting female career women, especially in journalism, would do well to ponder over those issues.
Having said all that, the Yemen Times is now trying to open up the door for prospective female journalists. Out of the 1,200 students at the College of Journalism at Sanaa University, some 400 are female. Yemen Times has been trying hard to recruit a few of these. Every year, the paper offers summer internships to some 15 of the top students in the last year before graduation. This year, six of them were women. We hope to hire at least three of these once they graduate in June, 1998. I personally feel that female journalists can play an important role in the presence of women in public life. They will be the torch-bearers because they will influence society, and they play role models for other women. We will help them, provided they satisfy the minimum – not the optimal – conditions.
Out of a total of some 2,000 journalists, Yemen today has roughly 80 female journalists, working mainly as radio and television announcers – a mere 4%. In the written media, I can count some one dozen professional reporters and another dozen columnists. Let me conclude by dedicating this editorial to the late Zahra Taleb, Yemen’s first female journalist. She was a pace setter as a radio announcer and actress.

By: Pro. Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf Editor-in-Chief and Publisher