Ladies and Gentlemen,
Having arrived in Pakistan only 2 weeks ago, I am still not even quite legal (HC-designate, to be precise). But it is very good to be here. Let me say that this is also my first public speaking engagement in the job. And I am really pleased that it is on a topic I really believe in.
When you arrive fresh in a country, you come with a fresh perspective. I in fact worked here in 2006 to 2008. Coming back after a gap, I am even more conscious of what has changed. I am not, you will be pleased to hear, going to list them all. But I have already been struck by the profile given to the debate on the role of women. A lot seems to have happened in the last two weeks alone – and not just because we in the run up to International Women’s Day. This may be the naive optimism of a newcomer, but I do get the sense that we are on the cusp of something positive, if difficult.
One thing that preparing Ambassadors do is try to immerse themselves in a country’s media – technology makes that much easier to do from my house in London. As I have done so, I have been struck by the increasing role that women have in the media.
Yes, parts of the online world continue to play host to intemperate views and smears. But I am also discovering that there are thousands of viewers and readers engaging with their favourite female journalist. Not focusing on what they look like, but the value of their observations, their marshalling of facts, and the questions they ask.
I am particularly struck by the impact that women are having in news. I am discovering a group of talented women leading the news agenda on their shows: Fereeha Idrees, Meher Bokahari, Maha Makhdum and Sidra Iqbal are among them. They seem refreshingly happy to ask the punchy question; in the same way as we have grown to know Mishal Hussain do in London on the BBC’s flagship Today programme. I am struck too by the preparedness of Pakistan’s female journalists – like many of our guests today – to cover some of the country’s most sensitive topics from human rights violations, to corruption and development.
I know that in the discussions today, you will focus on how to strengthen this trend. What are the barriers? How do we encourage more women in the media, particularly outside Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi?
But I want to focus my few remaining remarks on the positive and why these iconic journalists are so important.
They clearly act as role models for girls and young women interested in journalism. But it is more than that. Media and cultural representations of women in any society have a huge impact on how, more widely, girls and women are viewed and how they view themselves. It is for the same reason as girls’ education is important. Girls’education too shapes public attitudes to women and women’s equality. We believe in the importance of supporting initiatives such as today’s, for the same reason as education is at the heart of our development programme in Pakistan. Over seven million girls in primary and secondary schools of Pakistan benefit from it.
In short, we are delighted to support the debate about how to get a more diverse and representative press. We want Pakistan to prosper. And a country really only prospers when both its men and women can use their talents to the full.