Female journos sculpt future of African continent

Despite coming from different countries, the female journalists who converged at the regional conference of Highway Africa were bound by one common purpose: the zeal to meaningfully contribute to their continent’s development.

Kgomotsho Mophlang : Society views journalists as ‘incapable’.
Kgomotsho Mophlang : Society views journalists as ‘incapable’.

While professionals in other industries are threatened and hostile to each other because of their diversity and competition, the journalists are bound by it. They all speak passionately about their love for the profession – despite its challenges. Kgomotsho Mophlang, a reporter working with South Africa Broadcasting Corporation’s Channel Africa, traces the triumphs and challenges experienced since she joined the organisation in 2011.

She said despite her government crafting legislation that addressed the gender disparities in the media industry, society continued viewing female journalists as ‘incapable’.

Incompetent

“Society judges young female journalists and places an incompetency yoke around our shoulders,” said Mophlang.

“I have had instances when sources have judged me because of my age and physical appearance and they have questioned whether I am able to deliver,” she said. The young female reporter jokingly said she was a good example of ‘dynamite’ that comes in small packages, and was not deterred by these challenges. “I am motivated by the zeal to explain to South African citizens and Africa why free expression matters in their lives,” she said, adding that she enjoys producing stories from marginalised communities.

Male domain

Adele Mwale, a journalism student from Malawi, said patriarchy affected the rise of female journalists in her country. “The industry is male dominated. Most women think they cannot fit in well and the majority of them end up opting for other professions,” she said.

“My advice for female journalists is that they should persevere and they should be determined to reach higher levels in the industry,” said Mwale. “Through hard work we have the potential to break barriers and change the destiny of Africa,” she said, urging media companies to play their role and give competent women the opportunities to grow in the industry.

Stop judging

“We are the majority and yet when it comes to numbers of media professionals, we are in the minority,” she said, urging female journalists to take up challenging tasks in the media industry such as doing investigative journalism.

“Female journalists’ rights should be protected and people should stop judging us because of our sex or age, but because of the work that we do.”

According to a 2009 report by Gender Links entitled “Glass Ceilings: Women and Men in Southern African Media”, men constitute 87 percent of employees in Zimbabwe’s media organisations. “Men are the majority of employees in the Zimbabwe media surveyed – almost seven times the 13 percent of women employees. The proportion of women in Zimbabwean newsrooms is much lower than the regional average of 41,” says the report.

Harassed

A media expert who preferred anonymity attributed this to patriarchy and intolerable working conditions due to harassment and discrimination.

“Young female journalists are the most affected and those who raise these issues are often not taken seriously. In cases of harassment, male bosses sympathise with those accused of harassment and at times try to underplay the charges,” said the expert.

Patience Zirima, the chairperson of the Federation of African Media Women Zimbabwe (FAMWZ), said active involvement of women journalists in the media industry had the potential to foster the development of the continent.

Zirima believes that because the journalists brought a new dimension and definition of news values, ‘their role in the development of Africa should never be underplayed.”

“Their active involvement in the media challenges societal and patriarchal systems is vital, especially within the African context,” said Zirima. “They have the potential to bring a whole new dispension to what is considered important in news values.”

Zirima said although the inclusion of women journalists could be affected by patriarchy considering the risk of their integration to existing societal norms and values of news values, it was important to build the capacity of the media professionals to ensure that they deliver accordingly.

Amplified voices

Thelma Chandafira, the managing co-editor of Paradoka women’s magazine underscored the need for female journalists to amplify their voices and take up challenging roles in the industry.

“Ours (Paradoka women’s magazine) is still a new kid on the block in the media industry but it is our small way of amplifying women’s issues and voices online,” said Chandafira.

“Development is not a one day event, but a process which requires the contribution of everyone. As media professionals, we should strive to empower others especially those whose voices are swept under the carpet because of society’s political and social dynamics.”

Yemi Adamolekune is the executive director of Enough is Enough Nigeria (EIE Nigeria), a coalition of individuals and youth-led organisations committed to instituting a culture of good governance and public accountability in Nigeria through advocacy, activism and the mobilisation of the youth population as responsible citizens. She believes that the working environment for African journalists is changing because of the new social media.

“There is no doubt that the social media is forcing governments to communicate differently with its citizens,” said Adamolekune, adding that journalists should embrace new technologies to enhance their careers and link their issues to world trends.

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