11th November 2012. It is the first day of the Thomson Reuters journalism training course for which I have flown to Barcelona, Spain. New continent. New world. New people. 16 hours – the time my journey from Karachi to Barcelona took. 16 hours ago was the Karachi, the Pakistan I am from. Never a dull moment in my country. Especially in the newsroom. Even more so in my life. I am surrounded by 10 other energetic, excited and interesting participants. Each a unique story. But the shoddy parts of Karachi, the humidity of that city I call home, and its problems and joys never leave me, even when I walk down beautiful pebbled streets of the picturesque Barcelona which is almost utopic in its serenity.
My facilitator and trainer is the amazing Mariane Pearl. The first exercise she gives us to write two paragraphs about what it means to me to write about women’s issues and what are my brief impressions after a chat with any two colleagues. Below are those two paragraphs.
I confess I have not grown up in circumstances of deprivation, gender bias or inequality. My father had his roots in rural Pakistan but I grew up as a young urban Pakistani in a very sheltered home, yet given enough independence to be able to spread my wings. I had no idea for the longest time that women in my country and in this world go through the atrocities that I covered as a journalist. Naivety broke with journalism coming into my life and my first feature I wrote about the plight of women inmates in the Karachi Central Jail. That’s when it hit me that women’s lives are complex, interesting and often the greatest stories. All I know is that I am a people-centred person – I love people. I want to know them, relate to them, empathize with them. My struggle remains whether I should be a journalist or a writer. I hope to be both. Because today as I sit down as one of 11 participants whom Reuters has graciously invited to Barcelona to teach us more about how to report women’s issues, my excitement is about stories! Our first exercise involved me sitting with Saraswati Sundas from Bhutan and Alexis Angulo from Mexico – both vibrant young journalists. I cannot wait to talk more with them. Blog about what all we shared. Our commonalities and our differences that make this world so beautiful. Alexis is breaking my bubble when I state defiantly that Pakistan is THE most dangerous place in the world for journalists. That doesn’t seem like that big a deal when he tells me that Mexico is second on the list. He is a proponent of legalizing drugs in Mexico. He explains why. Mexico has lost a hundred thousand people to drug wars in the last six years. Saraswati is talking about her modern urban friend who was not allowed to visit her parent’s home even when a death in the family happened by her UK-educated husband who beats her up. Human differences and commonalities! We bond. We relate.
I have recognized my trainer. It is Mariane Pearl. Wife of Daniel Pearl. Pakistan is where Daniel lost his life in the line of journalistic duty. Pakistan is where Mariane fought many battles. She knows Pakistan, I am thinking. She knows what it is like to report in a conflict zone….in a society polarized, yet with so much good coming out of its people, especially women. My experiences of life have taught me that women need a voice. I am neither anti-men nor a radical feminist. I am a woman and proud to be one. But any vulnerable group needs to have its voice heard. When a woman is beaten or denied her right of inheritance or when she doesn’t have the empowerment to earn or save her earnings, or when she isn’t given the chance to decide which form of contraception to use or at which age should she marry, someone needs to speak up for her or teach her to that for herself. I am her voice. And I am mine.