The NWMI was born on January 30, 2002 at the end of a three-day national workshop for Indian women in journalism held at the India International Centre, New Delhi.
Approximately 100 women journalists from 14 states and working in at least a dozen languages participated in the workshop. Participants ranged in age from fresh entrants to the profession to veteran journalists with decades of experience.
Organised in collaboration with Voices, a Bangalore-based development communications NGO, with inputs from women journalists across the country and support from UNESCO, the national workshop took place at the end of a network-building process that had begun more than a year earlier.
The process was sparked off by a series of three regional workshops held in 2000-2001 (two supported by the World Association for Christian Communication and one by the Freedom Forum) that enabled women journalists from different parts of India to gather together to discuss issues of common concern and to explore the possibility of building professional networks at the local, state, regional and national levels.
The first of these workshops, held in Bangalore in November 2000, brought together 40 participants representing five states and six languages from the south and west of the country. The second one, held in Jaipur in April 2001, had the participation of 50 women journalists from seven states in northern and eastern India, working in six languages. The third workshop, held in Shillong in September 2001, brought together about 20 women from seven states in the east and northeast regions, working in five languages.
There was broad consensus among workshop participants on the need for multi-layered, informal networks of women journalists that could serve multiple purposes, both professional and societal. Apart from the obvious purpose of providing a forum for addressing issues related to the workplace, it was felt that such networks could facilitate career advancement through training and professional enrichment programmes, as well as mentoring.
In addition, participants suggested that platforms of this kind could help highlight ethical issues related to the media, as well as the vital role of the media in society, especially in a democratic and diverse country like India. The network-building process was catalysed by the book, Women in Journalism: Making News by Ammu Joseph, (The Media Foundation / Konark Publishers, New Delhi, 2000). The need to follow up on the issues raised by women journalists during interviews for the book, and the perceptible desire for some form of professional association among a wide range of female media persons, comprised the initial motivation for and primary objective of the workshops.
In the wake of the regional workshops, women journalists began getting together at the local and, in some cases, state levels to address issues of common interest and to take forward the process of network-building. In places where such groups were already in existence, the process provided the possibility of establishing links with media women in other parts of the country.
The national workshop in 2002 enabled participants from across the country to share their thoughts and experiences and discuss the proposed national network.
At the end of three days of spirited and, often, heated debate, decisions were taken that evidently had the concurrence of most, if not all, the participants. It was decided that the NWMI would strive to function as an informal, non-hierarchical organisation, with volunteers taking on various responsibilities and collective decisions made, as far as possible, on the basis of consensus.
This arrangement would be reviewed periodically and further decisions on the structure, mode of functioning, etc., would be based on the experiences of the interim period. Groups in different centres would determine their own agendas on the basis of the local context, priorities and needs.
At present, the NWMI has coordinators or representatives in the following places: Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Manipur, Meghalaya, Maharashtra, Nagaland, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and West Bengal.
It was also decided that the network would work with existing professional bodies, where possible and necessary, to fulfil the above aims and objectives.