Is Africa ready for female dominated newsrooms?

PICTURE: Kenya’s Asha Ahmed Mwilu and Rashid Idi were the 2016 CNN African Journalist Award winners…Mwilu said her award proves that it is now time for Africa to respect female journalists and their rightful place in the newsroom.

Ngoni Dapira recently in South Africa

THE onset of the 20th Century was momentous for gender politics and loud calls to end the era of a patriarchal world order. Now, in the 21st century a lot of barriers have been broken down with many countries, including Zimbabwe signatories to international agreements on gender equality and women’s rights.

However, at the recently held 2016 edition of the CNN Multichoice African Journalist Awards, during a plenary session on ‘Women in Media,’ African female journalists quizzed whether the continent was really ready for a new world order under a structure that ‘holistically’ recognised gender equality across the board.

It was questioned whether Africa women now really had a ‘seat at the table’, and whether the ‘seat’ could truly be equated as an equal voice or it is simply ‘window dressing’ bookish ideologies?

The majority of the female journalists were in consensus and really got into a heated debate calling the current status quo on gender policies in Africa as ‘window dressing’ guidelines. They called for a mental revolution in every facet, culturally, socially and politically.

One of the panellists, the co-founder and executive chairman of AllAfrica Global Media, Mr Amadou Mahter Ba, from Senegal, urged political and business leaders to close the gender gap for them to strengthen the world’s economy citing women as an important missing cog in the world’s developmental agenda.

He said the 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report titled “The Power of Parity” accentuated that by 2025, the world’s gross domestic product could get as high as a US$28 trillion uplift, if women performed an identical labour role to their male counterparts.

“In Africa women have always had a strong voice but are not necessarily heard. What we now need to do is to move from window dressing that women are now sitting on the table and really have them sitting there. Most women run businesses for subsistence purposes whilst in large corporate most women in top positions hold non-executive positions, of which that should change,” said Mr Mahter Ba.

The McKinsey report argues that while women make up half of the world’s working-age population, females only deliver around 37 percent of the world’s current gross domestic product and make up 40 percent of its workforce overall, an anomaly that if corrected can boost the worlds current GDP.

The report further stated that 75 percent of total unpaid care work (child and elderly care, cooking etc) was done by women but could be worth US$10 trillion a year if it was accounted for.

Seasoned journalist and the content executive at M-Net’s Zambezi Magic Channel, Ms Kwangu Liwewe from Zambia said Africa was not yet ready to fully embrace the reality of gender equality. She added that in the media industry a level playing field had not yet been ‘justly’ set for the elevation of female journalists.

“In the newsroom psychological barriers should be broken down from cultural to religious stereotypes placed on female journalists, which in most cases undermine our elevation. The newsrooms are still male dominated and it begins with how news assignments are allocated. Male news editors tend to assign soft news to female journalists whilst hard news assignments are given to males. That is where we should start when we talk about having a mental revolution,” said Ms Liwewe.

One of the overall winners of the 2016 CNN Multichoice African Journalist Award, Asha Ahmed Mwilu, a senior political reporter and editor for Kenya Television Network (KTN), voiced that there was need to stop sexualising the newsroom and the news anchors on TV.

“In the 21st century we now need to move away from myopic thinking as female journalists. Like the conjecture that for you to be in ‘certain positions’ in the newsroom who do you need to be ‘friendly’ with as a female journalist? I think this is the elephant on the table that we are not talking about concerning newsroom politics. At some point we will have to stop sexualising the newsroom and the news anchor, to the point that as a woman my face should determine whether I get elevated or not,” said Mwilu.

An investment professional from Kenya, Ms Andia Chakava said it was time for the media to do more thorough and opinionated pieces to level the playing field on the gender equality rhetoric.

She also highly praised the pressure being set by social media and citizen journalism in overturning traditional barriers and expectations on who can relay news and the standards of what news is expected to be, which were set by the mainstream media.

“As the media in the 21st century it is time to name and shame patriarchal policies and behaviours. Put some kind of social pressure and make it unacceptable. I’m also saying as journalists you have the power to expose where the bias is, investigate companies more and show where the gender attrition rate is high. I would like to see more stories where instead of focusing on the 50 most powerful men in the world it will be the 50 most influential women in the world… Social media and citizen journalists are also doing a good job to tackle head on some of these stereotypes which mainstream media can’t deal with because of editorial policies. So their (social media and citizen journalists) co-existence with mainstream media is important,” said Ms Chakava, who was recognised by Africa Report Magazine’s September 2014 issue as one of the ’50 People to Watch in Africa.’

It was however acknowledged that across the continent, by and large, in the 21st century notable strides had been made in the elevation of a number of women to top positions of editor and chief executive officers in some media houses. Nonetheless, it was held that most newsrooms were still male dominated despite having a strong presence of female journalists.

Another female journalist said the long hours of work that characterize journalism continue to be a veritable challenge for married female journalists given that in Africa it is the principal responsibility of the woman to provide domestic care in the home, regardless of there being house help.

“Being efficient at work while maintaining order at home has been an uphill task to female journalists over the years. I wake up every day at 4am to cook the day’s meal and then I prepare breakfast for my family of six, after which I bath and dress the kids for school. I do all these with my radio on so I can listen to the day’s news. My day at work begins with a news conference at 7am and ends at 8pm after the evening news. When I get back home by 8pm I am extremely tired yet I have to ensure my kids have done their homework. I have a house help but she does only laundry and cleaning because my husband prefers to eat only what I prepare,” she said.

The moderator of plenary session, CNN Money Africa Correspondent, Eleni Giokos, however underscored that the 21st Century should see a transformation to offset the assertion by famous Kenyan author Wangari Maathai that ‘the higher you go to the top the fewer women there are.’

Ironically, at the 11th edition of the prestigious, annual CNN Multichoice African Journalist awards held in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 15th of October, the potential and merit of female journalists was further accentuated.

Female journalists dominated the awards, bagging 10 out of the 17 award categories, including the News Impact Award and overall top award which was won by Mwilu and her male co-worker from KTN, Rashid Idi.

Although some awards were jointly won with co-workers, the other female journalists that scooped awards were Nigeria’s Yemisi Akinbobola and Ogechi Ekeanyanwu (Sport Reporting Award), Nigeria’s Chika Oduah (Dow Technology and Innovation Award), Algeria’s Faten Hayed (Francophone General News Award-Print), South Africa’s Diana Neille and Sumeya Gasa (Ecobank Economics and Business Award), South Africa’s Mia Malan (Features Award), Ghana’s Veronica Narkwor Kwabla (Health and Medical Award), South Africa’s Fiona Macleod (Environment Award) and South Africa’s Ancillar Mangena (Maggie Eales Young Journalist Award).

The annual awards which saw 38 finalists rise to the occasion from a record breaking 1637 entries across the continent were appraised for continuously encouraging African journalists to continue telling the ‘true’ African story to the world.

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