Iron woman journalist challenges newsroom abuse

Edinah Masanga is a hardened journalist who has resolved to stop all forms of abuse of female reporters by their male counterparts and news sources. She does not hide her bitterness at the abuse she experienced as the only woman scribe in a newsroom dominated by men.

Edinah Masanga: I would sometimes literally break down.
Edinah Masanga: I would sometimes literally break down.

She has been routinely underrated by colleagues because of her gender and asked for sexual favours both inside and outside the newsroom. This resulted in her saying enough was enough and taking steps to challenge the system.

She is the founder and chief executive of Women Empowerment Foundation Scribes Africa . “The levels of stereotyping that I endured, coupled with discrimination and harassment because I was a woman, was so excessive that I would sometimes literally break down,” she said in a recent interview.

Extra hard

“It was a long and winding journey to be recognised by my workmates. I had to work extra hard to prove myself even. Numerous sexual favours were asked from me both in the newsroom and in the field by sources. This made the challenges of being a female journalist too much and at some point it forced me to write an article about it.

“I suffered the worst forms of abuse as a female journalist in the newsroom in Zimbabwe. The bullying and the belittling were too much. They would have broken my spirit had I not decided to stand up and confront the system.

“It has been a long and bumpy road but I have reached a point where I no longer take nonsense from men. My investigations into other newsrooms confirmed that my female colleagues experience similar harassment. That was when I realised the need for female journalists to stand up and challenge the status quo,” Masanga said.

WEFSA started as an informal network in 2010 when she was based in South Africa. It was a small group of like-minded female journalists discussing issues that affected them as media workers.

Masanga learnt from her trips around the globe that the situation for female journalists was similar, regardless of geographical location.

Worldwide

At one occasion as a panellist at an event organised by Radio Netherlands training centre, she learnt from other participants that female scribes shared abuse and occupational challenges worldwide.

“A lot needs to be done for women to be regarded as equally competent as their male counterparts and not to be used as sex objects, judging by the number of sexual favours asked by men in and out of the newsroom,” she said.

Female journalists also faced the social problem of being regarded as women of loose morals, given their wide travelling on duty. “This costs women journalists a dignified social life,” she added.

The organisation and Masanga in her personal capacity have been speaking ou t about the issues affecting women journalists in order to create a vibrant discussion as a starting point.

“Getting the issues out there was a critical starting point for us and we have concentrated on the strategy as we acknowledged that sexual harassment does exist. There is still a long way to go before we get policies that afford remedy or fairness to female journalists who are victims of sexual harassment.

Next level

“We continue to speak at several fora against sexual harassment and are engaging other partners to take this work to the next level, where we would focus on strategic litigation, training of the female journalists and intensify the advocacy against sexual harassment,” she said.

They have now managed to attract bigger players who have come out strongly in support of the empowerment of female journalists. WEFSA has successfully lobbied high level organisations and individuals to make sure that the issue of sexual harassment against female journalists is taken into the mainstream human rights debate, as women journalists are a ‘unique’ entity.

Part of their engagement has included using the traditional male-dominated Quill Club in Harare for dialogue and they have garnered overwhelming male participation at their events.

“This underscores the strides we have made in influencing a paradigm shift towards challenging the status quo. We have achieved much according to our size and age and are proud to build on that,” said Masanga.

Partnerships

She intends to mobilise resources and seek partnerships to introduce specialist training for women journalists to tackle the beats regarded as a preserve for male scribes.

“We want female journalists to acquire high level journalism skills to enable them challenge the stereotypes in the newsrooms. Education is vital in confronting the problem of discrimination and sexual harassment,” she said.

Masanga accused media houses of lacking policies that made the working environment conducive for women journalists and called on them to deal with newsroom sexual predators preying on young student journalists and interns.

“I hope to make the women journalists’ movement a global movement and plans are underway to launch a fellowship award in my name,” she said.

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Post published in: Gender Equality

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