Shazia Mehboob

Entry type: Portfolio

Country/area: Pakistan

Publishing organisation: The Express Tribune

Organisation size: Small

Cover letter:

I am a freelance journalist based in Islamabad with over a decade long working experience in leading print and digital media outlets i.e. The Express Tribune, Dawn, The News, Naya Daur, and The Reporters.pk. I have published more than 350 investigative reports, in-depth features, columns, and news reports covering a wide range of issues including governance, corruption, disparities in treatment of women & religious minorities, gender-based abuse, impact of poverty on children, and climate change, particularly focusing on human interest issues. Currently, I am leading an online news platform ‘ThePenPk.com’ as founder and editor which is particularly focusing on public interest issues.

Before establishing my own digital media platform, I was staff member of The Express Tribune, The Nation, and International News Network. I am also involved in teaching and research activities with Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad and Allama Iqbal Open University, and delivered lectures at Fatima Jinnah Women University. I did M.Phil in International Relations in 2018.

I grew up in a remote village in district of Mansehra, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
My own education and career has entailed many ups and downs because of socio-economic and cultural barriers. This, in many ways, has given me the motivation to set an example for others on what can be achieved with persistence and determination and often taking ‘no- for- no’ approach whilst impelling me to become a ‘voice of voiceless.’

Through my journalistic pursuits, today I am in a unique position to influence state policy and implementation, raise public awareness and engagement through my investigative reports on myriads of political and socio-economic issues, which have generated debate at policy level, led to government-level initiatives, and led to involvement of civil society, NGOs, and major stakeholders to take heed of the issue.

For example:

In 2021, I published an investigative feature highlighting the inability of public sector universities to recruit qualified staff even though there were more than 1,000 PhDs scholars jobless in the country, being denied opportunities by prevalent nepotism in the system of hiring. This report was awarded the ‘Aghai Award’.

In the same year, my story on two Zob-Balochistan students who were campaigning for books donations to establish a library as there was no library in the entire district. One of the country’s prestigious institutions, after my report, approached the students and financed them to establish a digital library.

In 2020, my story on an engineering graduate forced to sell fruit at a roadside for not having a suitable job went viral on social media and generated a much needed debate on challenges faced by young graduates. Following this, two companies approached me for his contact details. He is now working for one of them in a role reflective of his specialism.

In 2019, my investigative report into the difficulties experienced by residents of Islamabad (country’s capital) to access safe water and sanitisation due to the stifling mismanagement of the concerning authorities, inter-departmental bureaucratic wrangles and power struggles. The report was awarded ‘Journalism for Equitable Asia’.

My investigative report into the growing trend of ‘crystal meth’ stimulant use by young people in educational institutions in 2019, not only helped to draw attention to the issue but successfully pushed the authorities into action to introduce measures required to prevent and curtail the use of harmful substances in higher education institutions.

Another story included the pressing issue of ‘out-of-school children’ which went on to win Aghai Award 2020.

My journalistic career has mainly focused toward public interest journalism and solution journalism as evident from the published work.

Description of portfolio:

In Pakistan, women experience acute inequalities due to age old social and cultural norms and customs, patriarchal setup, entrenched political instability and ineffective public policies. Their lack of voice in political, economic and social spheres means that very little coverage is given to issues pertinent to their plight. Demographically, women outnumber men in country’s population index yet no priority is given to their development. Successive governments for too long have overlooked their needs in education, health and releasing of their potentials. Education general scores low in country’s budget allocation thus further exacerbating gender imbalance.

Project 1: Pakistan has among the world’s lowest literacy rate and lack of women’s active participation in political, economic and civic spheres is one of the major reasons for country’s subject political culture and its sluggish economy performance. The current makeup of Pakistan’s parliament is only 21 percent female. In the National Assembly, which consists of 342 members, female representation is only around 3 percent.

Project 2: Despite the existence of a strong law concerning domestic violence, most victims find themselves without protection because the implementation is circumvented by outside influence and interference, poor execution of courts’ decisions, and lack of honesty, dedication and will of enforcers.

Project 3: Women with disabilities in particular are often considered a burden. They not only suffer from disabilities but also struggle with accessing education and employment opportunities. Options for marriage for this group are few since they struggle to achieve social acceptance. Gendered discrimination is widespread but there is little being done by the state and development sector in this regard.

Project 4: Abortions are a growing practice in Pakistan and the rate of compromised abortions is also increasing owing to multiple factors which include untrained mid-wives, illegal abortions, legal and religious limitations, unplanned pregnancies, ignorance of family planning and self-medication.

Project 5: Large majority of working women are victims of harassment but are forced to continue their jobs in hostile working environments. Those who are able to take a stand are confronted by numerous challenges. Victims bear the cost of expensive legal fees while perpetrators have huge company funds to pay for expensive corporate lawyers, who can prolong cases with numerous adjournments, which are aimed to exhaust the victim’s financial resources and emotional stamina.

The main objective behind the coverage of these stories is to scale up the attention of decision-makers at national and sub-national level, raise awareness of the women’s pressing issues and gender sensitization at societal level, and to nurture and empower leadership potentials so that ‘the voiceless have the voice’ in society and in the system of governance which on many account remains oblivious of their plight and potentials.

In Pakistan, social media has become a ‘factory for generating
fake news’ that has the potential of pervading information system. It
has increased the potential for false information to spread quickly
with real-world repercussions for marginalized and minority
communities in particular and the general public. Moreover, the federal and provincial departments and organizations are reluctant to share information so access to information from govt agencies is a worrisome problem. Therefore, during the development of these stories, I had continuously utilized the ‘Right to Information Law’ as a tool to collect data and information from departments/ organization for my stories to eliminate elements of mis/disinformation in reporting, distribute accurate information to public to ensure standards of ethical journalism.
I have also won RTI Champion Award 2021 for using ‘Right to Information Act’ for my investigative reporting and fact checking.

I am the principal creator of these projects and am submitting this portfolio as a freelance journalist.

Project links: