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Rabina for Mayor

Rabina for Mayor

Women still sidelined in the media

Ever since I’ve been a local councillor, I’ve been far more used to giving quotes to the press then asking for them.

But before I became cabinet member for housing in Tower Hamlets, I spent a great deal of time in broadcasting.

In both I have had a great many positive experiences, but also have been reminded endlessly of my colour, my gender and my religion. I don’t think I am alone in that experience.

There are certainly more women in print journalism these days than when I was growing up.

But in broadcast journalism it seems to be staying relatively static, if not going down.

This is the danger of tokenism — one can find plenty of women writing copy or reading off autocues, but far fewer given editorial freedom and genuine independence.

That said, if you are a Muslim or woman of colour generally the chances of your face making it onto a screen at all drop dramatically.

To this day I have seen maybe one brown face and no headscarfed face reading the news.

When I worked with production companies and broadcasters, I was the only one for the vast majority of times.

And it was an odd double bind — on one hand, you would hear the audible sighs if I brought up Islamophobia and the specific way it affected women. On the other hand, it was all too often automatically expected that I would speak about race and gender and have no other opinions on anything.

Modern feminism has developed the idea of intersectionality to explore how different dimensions of discrimination relate to each other.

Before I’d heard of the theoretical explanation, I could see the lived reality very clearly.

Grayson Perry’s idea of “default man” sums up the press perfectly — still, what is seen as the “impartial, objective” view is the standpoint of the middle-class white man. One cannot simply supplant that with the occasional standpoint of handpicked women.

We need to end the culture of unpaid media internships that give a leg-up to those in private school old boys’ networks who can afford to support themselves.

We need to challenge racism and Islamophobia and the way deprivation and social exclusion in minority communities prevent people from even getting to the point where they dream of applying for that unpaid internship.

It is not just about quotas or changing attitudes, but changing the way the industry — and society beyond it — thinks and acts. Because the struggles of the marginalised are inseparable.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Make it happen” — as the IWD website sponsored by accountancy firms and polluting oil companies cheerfully lets us know.

Its secondary slogan of “celebrating women’s achievements” is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, it’s important to recognise the work of all women who have done well.

On the other hand, too few will look beyond the boardrooms and recognise the daily achievements of the thousands of women in my borough struggling to work, educate themselves and raise families while the resources they depend on are slashed to the bone by austerity.

And we need to not just ensure that a few women can escape from one world to the other but break down the barrier between those worlds and push for the fair treatment of women as part of an overall push for a fairer society.

To me the press is a key part of that struggle. An example close to home for me is the London Evening Standard’s general election “expert” team this year, which consists of seven white men and three white women, in a city that is 40 per cent ethnic minority and half women.

It is not controversial to say that the people writing, producing, reading and curating the news should reflect those living and making it.

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