File picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP
File picture: Nariman El-Mofty/AP

Lack of gender policies leaves African women behind

By Edwin Naidu Time of article published May 11, 2020

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Beautiful Mauritius, the idyllic Indian Ocean island renowned for its luscious beaches, is an ugly microcosm of the failure of the media in Africa to adequately address gender issues.

Mauritius has a population of 1.3 million, tiny compared to larger African nations, and its media despite some progress still has a long long way to go towards gender equality, says University of Mauritius senior lecturer in media studies Christina Chan-Meetoo in a forthcoming book whose release was delayed by the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic on the island.

“Although the number of women who have joined the ranks of media companies is on the rise, almost reaching parity in some of the big organisations, the structure of ownership and editorship in the industry remains locked into a glass ceiling effect as very few women make it to the top of their respective hierarchies.

“Within the newsrooms populated by women, the distribution of news beats is unequal across gender categories and there is imbalance in the repartition of voices, which are given to be heard.

“Finally, stereotypical reporting is like a monster which rears its head very regularly despite the efforts to rein it in,” she writes.

She said lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people were also excluded as voices in the media.

Rosemary Okello Orlale, director of the Africa Media Hub at Strathmore University Business School in Nairobi, Kenya, has pointed to the exclusion of voices in the media where “the majority of people around the world are not equal members and participants of this global village, neither as consumers or producers”.

Notwithstanding the increasing concentration of the media in the hands of a few people in Africa, mainly private investors with a global reach, she noted that this had brought with it the importation of cultural models and their codes, perceptions and prejudices, including gender, cultural and ethnic stereotypes.

Mauritius is no exception, according to Chan-Meetoo, with women’s pages and magazines providing a good illustration of this.

“Their pages, and especially their covers, rarely feature the average coloured women who constitute the majority of the female population.”

Just 3093km away in Somalia, Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimuu, secretary general of the Federation of Somali Journalists (Fesoj), said women journalists in his country were facing numerous challenges, as shown by a study released last year depicting their conditions.

The study by Somali Women Journalists in co-operation with IMS-Fojo Media Programme in Somalia claims key decisions are made by predominantly male senior management teams, that sexual harassment is mainly perpetrated against females by their superiors, and that the media sector lacks clear gender policies. The study reveals that much remains to be done to ensure that sexual harassment can be dealt with effectively.

In general, the study found that management in Somali media houses acknowledge the gender gap in recruitment, but across the 19 media houses/associations visited, only 36 of the 159 total employees (23%) were female.

The survey indicates that the cases of sexual harassment are those in which superiors are the main perpetrators, followed by co-workers, and to a lesser degree, state or government officials.

A further 2824km away, Rwanda is no different, where there has been almost no progress since the development of a gender mainstreaming strategy and its monitoring and evaluation framework seven years ago by the Rwanda Media High Council.

This framework was developed as a response to the recommendations from a gender audit report highlighting the gender strategy as strongly needed tool to ensure identified gaps are bridged.

The aim of the strategy was to ensure co-ordinated and gender sensitive capacity building within the media sector and to inform stakeholders in the media sector of their role in respecting gender principles within their respective areas of intervention.

But it’s been a failure, according to Rwandan journalist Donna Mbabazi, who told the Sunday Independent that sexual harassment still “looms in newsrooms. I have seen some give up their careers over this”.

“Rwanda is a very safe country for us women; however, we still have challenges with regard to gender-based violence, though strategies are in place to curb the vice,” she said.

Last week, the UN Economic Commission for Africa hosted a webinar with Kenyan-based African Women in Media on the effects of Covid-19 on Africa with gender as a key issue during the discussions.

The Sunday Independent

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