Gender discrimination rife in newsrooms

Female journalists have been urged to speak out against gender discrimination and claim their space in the newsroom.

UNWOMEN Deputy Country Director, Revai Makanje Aalbaek.
UNWOMEN Deputy Country Director, Revai Makanje Aalbaek.

The deputy country representative for UNWOMEN, Revai Makanje, said equality for women meant progress for all, and female journalists could be powerful as agents for development, helping give voice to marginalised women.

Makanje Aalbaek, speaking at the launch of a study entitled Power, Patriarchy and Gender Discrimination in Zimbabwean Newsrooms urged female journalists and Zimbabwean women in general to stand up for their rights in the workplace and speak out against discrimination.

“If you do not name it, you will not deal with it,” she said. “There is need to identify who is doing it and what it is that they are doing if we are to come up with strategic interventions to reverse such negative trends.”

Findings from the study established that gender discrimination in Zimbabwean newsrooms is prevalent and the perpetrators of the practice tend to be the editors.

More than 64 per cent of the respondents indicated that discrimination in the newsroom happened more than once a week, indicating that it was institutionalized.

Sexual harassment is just one of the forms of discrimination and was defined as “an unwelcome sexual advance that can range from a suggestion or promise of employment or promotion in return for sexual favours to the display of sexually offensive posters, cartoons, or drawings, or any other form of verbal or physical behaviour that the recipient regards as unwelcome or embarrassing”.

Women often earn a lower wage than men despite having identical professional qualifications and credentials, the study noted.

“Women are prevented from competing for higher positions and climbing the professional ladder and tend to be denied fair and equal promotion in the workplace. Gender stereotypes influence the types of jobs or story topics that female journalists are assigned compared to their male colleagues,” read the report.

According to the study, editors assigned ‘soft news’ like entertainment and lifestyle to female journalists and politics, economics and sports to male journalists.

It noted that pregnancy and motherhood were used as factors upon in discriminating against women in the workplace.

“These are unfairly perceived to be obstacles to a woman’s ability to perform professionally and they are anticipated as potential threats to a woman’s long-term commitment to a job,” said the report.

It also revealed that a woman’s age, physique and looks contributed to their discrimination, especially in the broadcast media, where age and appearance often dictated success.

However, the report also said that some women used gender stereotypes to their advantage, using their looks to get better assignments, promotion and perks from male colleagues.

The programmes manager of Media Monitoring Africa, Wellington Radu, said the research exposed that gender discrimination was a challenge largely fuelled by power and patriarchy.

“”Gender inequality in Zimbabwean newsrooms is not only a gender issue but a critical leadership issue,” he said.

He said the report identified three focus areas that had the potential to reduce gender discrimination.

“These include the country’s legislation and policies, sustained awareness raising, and the creation of an environment that promotes equal opportunities for women and men,” he said.

Karen Kelly counselled women not to leave the media because of the challenges they experienced.

“The embassy has a programme to capacitate young female journalists and provide them with the skills and expertise so they can improve their performance in the industry,” she said.

Said Patience Zirima, the acting chairperson of FAMWZ: “Women journalists constitute 13 per cent of the whole media workforce. Only 17 per cent of editors are female and only 13 per cent of top media managers are female.”

She said low representation affected news content and women were neglected as news sources.

Post published in: News

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