We share aspirations but occupy separate spaces

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Why do women journalists need a separate club? This was the question asked by many a press veteran nursing his fourth drink at Delhi’s Press Club of India when the Indian Women’s Press Corp (IWPC) was set up 22 years ago. The gap in understanding continues, although the word ‘club’ is nowhere to befound in the acronym IWPC.

IWPC exists as a separate entity despite mediapersons being  eminently comfortable with each other and sharing camaraderie

The IWPC runs from a rented single-storey bungalow just half a km from the Press Club, the latter having both men and women members. Some women are members of both institutions. Some of its 18 founding members — Kumkum Chadha, Shubha Singh, Mannika Chopra, Coomi Kapoor, Neerja Chowdhury — could be seen at a packed Kamani auditorium on 5 November where a musical evening had been organised. Chief guest Najma Heputallah, Manipur Governor, talked fondly of the days when her chamber in Parliament House was an adda for women journalists, who were sure of a warm welcome and a cup of tea.

The IWPC has no liquor licence, and closes at 8.30 pm. It is in fact not meant for unwinding after a hard day at work, but act a resource centre, where you can see correspondents and columnists keying in their writeups in the computer room, having lunch in the homely cafeteria, or flipping through magazines in the library. In the old days, you could borrow movie CDs from the library. A small hall can be rented out for events like book launches and discussions. So it’s not as if the premises are out of bounds for men.
The IWPC offers a platform for women journalists to network “by making women’s voices and bylines more visible.” Membership is offered to those who have put in three years in print media or five years in electronic media — an intriguing calibration. It has also widened its embrace to include ‘corporate members’, those who work in the field of communications and public relations, both in private companies and government departments.

Still, the question remains: Why do women need a separate space? The implication seems to be that there is some higher purpose that cannot be achieved in the other spaces where male and female journalists interact — in the workplace, at press conferences and in the Press Club. The answer cannot lie in discomfort, for mediapersons are known to be eminently comfortable with each other, sharing a
camaraderie across gender and geography. In fact, Delhi’s Press Club could do with women’s aesthetic sense, as it is the shabbiest of such clubs all over the country. Moreover, both are on temporary premises whereas another plot has been allotted to the Press Club. Could not the IWPC and the Press Club management collaborate to create a common space? It certainly seems befitting of a liberated community that shares the same aspirations and challenges.

The parallel usually drawn is the demand for 33 percent reservation for women in Parliament. But this is not tenable. Once elected, those women MPs would occupy the same benches of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha as the general body. It’s just that there would be more of them, and they would have more ability to influence parliamentary debates and policy making.