On October 13, 2009, the Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program co-hosted a conference in Karachi, Pakistan, on women and the Pakistani media. Our co-host was Uks, an Islamabad-based NGO founded in 1997 to foster fair and sensitive reporting on women's issues in Pakistan.

The event looked at the portrayal of women and gendered issues in the Pakistani print and electronic media, and also explored issues relating to the status of women journalists in Pakistan. While the conference focused specifically on women and the media, a larger purpose was to bring attention to women's low status in Pakistan, a country that ranks 127th out of 130 nations in the World Economic Forum's latest Global Gender Gap Index. One of the conference's aims was to help boost the status of Pakistani women by focusing on bettering media coverage of women and improving working conditions for female journalists.

The conference's presenter-and chief organizer-was Tasneem Ahmar, Uks' founder and director and one of Pakistan's leading authorities on women and the media. Her presentation highlighted the need for better vocational training and education of female (and male) journalists in Pakistan; the lack of media standards or guidelines in Pakistan; and the importance of role models, supportive families, and the "little things" (such as separate toilet facilities in media workplaces and the provision of safe private transport to take women journalists home late at night).

Following Ahmar's presentation, conference participants deliberated about the obstacles standing in the way of improving Pakistani women's status in the media. These include "patterns of media ownership," i.e. the fact that a few families run all the major media companies in Pakistan; the misleading international perceptions of Pakistani women as helpless and oppressed; and Pakistan's troubled security environment, which takes time, energy, and resources away from tackling women's issues.

The conference organizers plan to release a guide for media professionals on December 10, 2009--World Human Rights Day--that makes recommendations for improving working environments for Pakistan's women journalists, and that offers guidance on how to promote better coverage of women.

This conference was made possible through the generosity of ML Resources. The Wilson Center's Asia Program is happy to acknowledge its profound debt of gratitude to ML Resources and to Muslim Lakhani.