I wanted to be a physician… then I wanted to be a physiotherapist… then a pharmacist… Instead, I became a journalist. It’s a career that – despite its pressures and dangers – is still attractive to young graduate girls and women in my home country of Egypt. But I’ll come back to that in a minute.
To work or not to work: that was never a question for me. I grew up in a family where all my female cousins and relatives received higher education and joined the workforce.
For me, the question was which career to choose. I opted for one untrodden by any of my family members: journalism.
From the outside, the media field looks charming and thrilling (one of the reasons I chose it). Outsiders always manage an impressed smile with a slight “Wow” or an “Ah” when I say I am a journalist.
But on the inside, it’s not so much a job; but a state of mind. It’s a state where you dedicate your thoughts, perceptions, senses and knowledge to provide what the world needs – “communication of information”.
Of course, I didn’t learn that in my all-female class as a student; I learned it on the job.
As I was having lunch with a couple of female colleagues, our discussion somehow drifted to women’s rights at work. We started comparing the situation in a country like Sweden where women’s rights are a given and Egypt where women’s rights are still questioned and affect everything from pay to promotion opportunities and protection from harassment.
But the cultural backgrounds are very different and the contrasts are not simple. Although women in Egypt are often unjustly treated in the work field, they still constitute a large part of the workforce, be it banks, government offices, hospitality, call centres, and even high-profile government ministries.
The majority of my journalism classes were female. In my current work, women in the office outnumber their male counterparts.
A rising force
The presence of women in the media field is rising. They’re not just presenters or the faces of popular channels but taking more senior roles producers and field journalists.
The tradition of a male-dominated media field is diminishing. As social media has become an essential aspect in reporting, and high-tech, light-weight equipment is now available to all, female journalists are seizing new opportunities. It’s their time now to rise and show themselves and that’s what they are doing.
Of course, there are risks in being a journalist, but this has not put women off. The early Egyptian revolution of 25th January and all the political events in its aftermath showed a high presence of female journalists on the road. Despite the dangers of bullets, gas bombs, beatings, and sexual harassment, female journalists persisted. In my small video reporting department in an independent online newspaper, we were five women to four men. When that same department offered a training program for young journalism students fifteen were selected: ten of them were girls and the rest boys.
The media field in Egypt isn’t guaranteed and doesn’t provide safety training. For women journalists to persist in the field, they need a lot of support from their editors and institutions – something which is not even available in more secure jobs.
Many of these women take the risk and responsibility themselves. Some succeed, others struggle, and a few pay the price such as 23-year old journalist, Mayada Ashraf, who was shot dead while covering violent clashes. Yet more women are entering this lustrous world of media and communications, heading departments and creating online news platforms.
As a woman in the media field, I think that if given the necessary support and backup, women can excel in it and prepare for a potentially balanced society because the media field mirrors society.
As a Christian, I know there is only a small representation of Christians in the media in my country. This puts pressure on myself and others to reflect Christ in an industry that is driven not only by money and fame but by political agendas also. It reminds me what a privilege and responsibility I have, and how I need to rely upon Him for my support, my strength, and my security.