'Being a journalist in Africa is challenging, but it’s harder for a woman'
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Gender inequality throughout Africa has worsened throughout the Covid-19 crisis, resulting in women on the continent feeling more marginalised and uncertain of breaking through the male-dominated ceiling - with sexual harassment rampant, low pay the norm and women treated as inferior to men.
“Most women in the media are treated like slaves. There’s little or no appreciation from the people we work for,” according to Bernadette Banda, a Zambian mother of three working in Kitwe, the third-largest city in the country.
“Being a journalist is challenging, but it’s harder for a woman with a hostile media environment, as Zambians are generally intolerant and have no respect for divergent views. This makes journalism hard because balancing our stories, as ethics demand, will hurt some, especially those in power. As a result, many journalists have become public relations officers, writing stories to please the powerful,” she said.
Citing inadequate training at journalism schools and a lack of investment in technology, Banda said the regulatory framework did not support press freedom in practice, as expressing one’s opinion against the president could also see one imprisoned. “From the gender perspective, our society is chauvinistic; it doesn’t believe that a woman can be intelligent and supervise men.
“There are a few women in leadership, but they act as a “rubber stamp”, without authority; the decisions are taken by the men that put them there,” she added.
Juggling roles as a wife, a mother and journalist was a thankless task, she said. “I do household chores after work. My children are under 10, so I cook, feed them and the next morning am up early to prepare their lunches and get them ready for school before work. At the office, nobody cares about the hassle I go through at home; I am expected to be there by 8am, just like everyone else,” she added.
This narrative is not unique to Banda, as found out by the Sunday Independent during a broad sweep of women in media throughout the continent, using communication tools such as LinkedIn and WhatsApp to interview journalists throughout Africa.
Monica Mayuni Kayombo, a senior journalist with the Daily Mail, said women in the Zambian media space encountered a number of challenges. “We have a situation in our newsrooms where men prop up each other, regardless of capabilities and qualifications.
“This is, however, not the case with women; there’s a need for us to be more united to break the ceiling. There is also a perception by men that women cannot match their performance, and any woman who challenges them is seen as a threat and left frustrated,” she said.
“We need deliberate policies that will promote gender equality in places of work. I would like to see a situation where respective governments reprimand those who fail to promote gender parity in workplaces,” she said,
Mayuni Kayombo said all heads and deputies of major media houses in Zambia were men, while the only woman in a senior management position was Mary Mbewe at the Daily Nation/Sun Newspaper.
Rwandan media owner and journalist Marie Louise Uwizeyimana, who owns Intego newspaper in the capital, Kigali, said women journalists in her country were courageous, loved their jobs and performed well but they were not considered capable of being investigative reporters. “They’re more likely to report on social and other soft stories and are prevented from being independent or covering analytical stories.
Referring to Covid-19, she sketched a gloomy picture. “Those who don’t work for the government or large media houses worry daily if their media house will survive and whether they will get paid month-end. Even before the pandemic, this environment discouraged females from entering journalism,” said Uwizeyimana, a mother of two.
It has not put her off, though. “I love journalism and my family. After work I’m studying law. Sometimes when I get home my children are asleep. In the morning, I spend time and get them ready for school. When their dad drops them off, I get ready for work again,” she said.
Vice-chairperson of the Rwandan Association of Journalists Solange Ayanone said the media industry was male-dominated; only 30% of the more than 1000 journalists in the country were women, she said, with about 5% in management roles.
“Another challenge for women journalists is that of sexual harassment in some newsrooms, according to the findings of the Media High Council. It’s a problem because there are no gender policies in media houses, no guidelines showing how sexual harassment is prevented and how it is reported.”
Ayanone said ownership of large broadcasters (10 television and 45 radio stations) was in the hands of men, while women owned online platforms without access to financial resources, adding that Covid-19 had affected many women-owned enterprises, forcing them to reduce staff. However, they still faced closure because of the decline in advertising revenue, she said.
Jennifer Wilson Sumi, senior online producer for the Azam Media Group in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, said the media was male-dominated with a lack of support for women as most males thought women were unable to carry out tasks, some believing that “a woman is a weak creature”.
Sumi said this perception was fuelled historically and culturally as most women from traditional areas believed that they should bear children and take care of their husbands and homes. “Also, they think men are more intelligent than women, especially when it comes to working and decision-making.”
In terms of salaries, she said it was no secret: “There’s no fairness; even if you are more educated than a man and working at the same level, the man will be paid more. We have a long way to go, but slowly we are seeing changes in some newsrooms as we raise our voice through different platforms in Tanzania,” she said.
But after a long day at the office, her work is only starting. “I’m married and my husband will need me to take care of him and the house. It is difficult and sometimes very disturbing as some men do not care.”
Enid Ninsiima, a mother of four working for the Daily Monitor in Kasese, Western Uganda, said women in the media faced many challenges, including lack of job protection and gender stereotyping, but her most serious concern was the ongoing incidence of sexual harassment from both employers and sources.
“It’s a male-dominated industry in Uganda and equal opportunities are minimal because, according to some, women are considered too weak to carry out certain tasks,” she said.
While much had to be done, Ninsiima said, the empowerment of women was a priority to combat exploitation at work, adding that help was on the way from a Women in News initiative under the auspices of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, which was providing training aimed at ensuring equality in the media.
But there was a long, arduous road ahead, she said.