Aurelia Gabriel, a senior journalist in Tanzania.
Aurelia Gabriel, a senior journalist in Tanzania.

Sexism adds to mounting pressure women journalists are facing in Africa

By Edwin Naidu Time of article published May 18, 2020

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The closures of Associated Media and Caxton magazine division, along with the transition of the Daily Sun primarily into a digital format, and the recent resignations of Mail & Guardian editor Khadija Patel and deputy Beauregard Tromp added to a woeful period for the media in South Africa, especially when May 3 was World Press Freedom Day.

Throughout Africa, the ongoing narrative about journalists, especially women, struggling to express themselves in newsrooms also cast a shadow over World Press Freedom Day.

Newsrooms in Ghana are also shedding staff, while in Malawi, journalist Brian Banda was attacked by alleged supporters of a political party on May 7, with incidents elsewhere reflecting media on the continent under siege.

David Kaye, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council last month that many governments are restricting access to information, leading to journalists being intimidated, detained, questioned and harassed.

An ongoing survey of journalists by Sunday Independent found that the messengers of the news in Africa are telling their stories under mounting pressure.

Some are struggling to survive, amid poor working conditions, low salaries, inadequate resources, government interference, harassment and censorship, worsened by secrecy of governments’ management of information related to Covid-19.

Very often, media owners claim that they are in favour of women empowerment and are trying their utmost best to promote gender equality within their newsrooms and in their editorial content but according to senior lecturer in media studies at the University of Mauritius, Christina Chan-Meetoo, in a forthcoming book, the reality is further from the truth.

Christina Chan-Meetoo, a senior lecturer in media studies at the University of Mauritius.

Chan-Meetoo said one had to acknowledge that commercial imperatives and lazy journalism are still prevalent and that the gender agenda is often given due credence only for International Women’s Day or when a plethora of gender-based crimes dominate the news.

“All four main print media groups, private radio stations and public broadcasters are directed by male CEOs and have males as majority shareholders. In fact, none of the key directors of media houses in Mauritius spanning the written press, radio, TV and online news media are women,” she said .

In Somalia, the gender inequality is as alarming with sexual harassment a major concern, according to Farhia Mohamed Kheyre, chairperson of the Somali Women Journalists Organisation based in Mogadishu.

Farhia Mohamed Kheyre, chairperson of the Somali Women Journalists Organisation based in Mogadishu.

Mohamed Kheyre said key decisions are still made by men, sexual harassment is rife, and gender policies were absent.

“A study done last year shows that much remains to be done to ensure that sexual harassment can be dealt with effectively,” said Mohamed Kheyre.

Women have it no better in Rwanda where the freedom to carry out their tasks is proving to be a challenge, especially during the pandemic, according to Francine Mukase, a freelance journalist in Kigali, Rwanda, who said the secrecy around information being released by the Rwandan government was making it difficult to report on the pandemic.

“Press briefings seem like a formality, without specific data, that’s a challenge. One is not allowed to ask questions either,” she said.

Tanzania is about 1000km from Rwanda, but the challenges are similar, according to Aurelia Gabriel, a senior journalist at her organisation.

“Many female journalists are working under difficult conditions.

“Women are not given a chance to own management positions, even if appointed as managers, they are still oppressed. Women in newsrooms are also sexually abused,” said Gabriel.

Awarding-winning BBC journalist Yvonne Mooka works in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana and her situation is different.

“There has been tremendous progress. Women are empowered.

“We have female journalists leading newsrooms.

“Women have a voice,” she said.

Mooka said the gender imbalance of the past has changed in Botswana with more women in leadership positions but disparities in pay remain.

“I believe there are equal opportunities for women. All they have to do is ‘grab them’. It starts with an individual,” she said.

Nonhlanhla Ngwenya is editor of online media platform Community Radio Harare in Zimbabwe.

She said the station strove to have an equal presentation of journalists at the organisation.

“We currently have seven reporters and four are women.

“But, generally, the media is male dominated and most women in the field tend to be given soft or easy beats.

“There has been conversation around equality in the newsroom by organisations such as the Young Journalists’ Association (YOJA),” she said.

Men still dominate the media in Kenya - as reporters/journalists and as news sources/actors, according to The Gender Agender, the last survey on women in the media in Kenya undertaken five years ago.

This study concludes that many media outlets operate without gender policies and this was evident when the majority of the members said they were not aware of gender policies in their media houses, and where they existed, they were not being sensitised.

But the road to freedom for women in the media on the continent remains a dream far from their daily realities - while in South Africa the current challenges facing journalists also revolve around survival.

The Sunday Independent

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