From left, Verashni Pillay, former editor of Huffington Post South Africa, Junama Ghunaimat, chief editor at Al Ghad paper in Jordan, Mahlatse Gallens, chair of the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef), Monica Almeida, bureau chief of El Universo from Ecuador and Kjersti Loken Stavrum CEO of Tinius Trust from Norway. Picture: Zanele Zulu

Female journalists and editors need to work harder to prove themselves in the media world – still considered to be largely a male-dominated industry.

Media professionals from around the world packed a summit hosted by the Women in Media organisation, during the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (Wan Ifra) congress in Durban today.

They came together to share their experiences in working in an industry that they were passionate about, but that also made great demands of their time, often sacrificing family time in doing so.

Chair of the South African National Editors Forum (Sanef), Mahlatse Gallens, who is also the political editor at News24, said working as a journalist and being female, came with many pitfalls.

“I’ve had politicians who have hit on me, they feel it’s okay to talk about my physical attributes openly, and are not even shy to tell me to wear a dress with no stockings when I come to interview them. We really need some super powers to be the mother, wife and journalist always on call and monitoring what’s happening in case we miss something that’s news. I wish I knew how to be that super woman,” said Gallens.

She said she wished she set more parameters in her earlier days as a journalist.

“I wish I found the balance earlier. Journalists need family time like any other person, moreso to provide that support in dealing with a demanding career. They need their weekends and need to be with their children as well,” she said.

Helje Solberg, CEO of VGTV in Norway, offered her positive story to the audience

She said she faced a dilemma when returning to work after a year on maternity leave.

“I love being a journalist but I also needed to take care of my baby. They wanted me back in the political department and I told them yes, but on condition I could leave at 2pm twice a week. And I got it,” she said.

Despite the odds, female journalists and editors were successful, and two of them were honoured at the summit. The awards recognised the work of female journalists and editors in leadership and mentoring.

Karima Kamal won the award for Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Pamela Sittoni won the award for sub-Saharan Africa. Kamal is a columnist and contributing editor for the Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Yom and Sittoni the editor of The East African newspaper in Nairobi.

Kamal and Sittone were described as leaders in the newsroom, generating stories and mentoring young reporters.