KARACHI: Threats, intimidation and sexual harassment of women at workplaces are pervasive in Pakistan’s media organisations and is a serious barrier to the entry of women in the profession. This was the consensus at the ‘Consultative Dialogue on Safety Challenges for Female Media Professionals’ organised here by Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF) with the support of Open Society Institute (OSI). The meeting felt that newspapers, radio and television channels in Pakistan have not done enough to promote a sense of safety for women to work there. “This is evident from the fact that only a handful of media houses have set up the in-house inquiry committees to investigate complaints of sexual harassment of their women staff.” Under the Protection of Women against Harassment at Workplace Act 2010, all organisations in Pakistan are required to set up these three-member in-house committees. The meeting noted with concern that sexual predators target the most vulnerable and needy women staff and it was necessary for their employers to provide a safe and secure working environment for all women employees. The meeting emphasised that all media organisations including Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE), All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS) and Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) to encourage and facilitate their members to ensure the creation of the committees which would promote the sense of security among women staff and also encourage others to enter the profession. The meeting also urged media organisations to promote awareness of code of conduct at the workplace against sexual harassment. “Women who complain against sexual harassment are branded as trouble makers and feel isolated at their work places. The safety challenges faced by women employees in media organisations in Pakistan cover a range of physical, mental and emotional threats, intimidations and retaliations. These acts include inappropriate sexual advances, touching or groping, standing inappropriately close to women colleagues, persistent staring or ogling,” they observed. The participants said that at times their male colleagues try to damage the reputation of the women who complain about sexual harassment and raise questions about their moral character. “Victims of sexual harassment often do not find support from their bosses or even other women colleagues who do not want to create tensions in the office. Women media professionals also face insinuations that being a woman made it easier for them to get important news scoops or interviews, which minimises achievements and does not recognise their performance.” Sexual harassment of women is a global problem and according to the international survey on violence and harassment against women in the news media by the International News Safety Institute (INSI) and International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) two-thirds of women media professionals face threats and the majority of the threats are in the workplaces. Earlier, Dr. Salman Arif, gender rights experts and former journalist gave an overview of the societal aspects of sexual harassment and abuse of power. “Our societies do not have level playing fields for women who face many restrictions and barriers to their right to earn a livelihood without fear of discrimination,” he said, adding, although the state is the primary duty bearer in ensuring safety of all citizens, including females and children, it has failed to fulfil the guarantees given in the constitution of Pakistan. He said only two percent of violent honour crimes are reported and 98 percent are not reported. He said even violent crimes against women such as gang rapes are covered by the media in a manner to titillate rather than horrify their audiences. “By unnecessarily focusing on the age and beauty of the victims, the media give the impression that the women subjected to horrific atrocities may be themselves be partially responsible for violence against them,” he added.