As the world tackles inequality and gender discrimination across all sectors, the media industry in the Gambia is lagging with inclusivity, be it in quotes for stories, interviews, or even editorial decisions.
The 2010 Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) reveals that women make up only 24% of the people heard, read about, or seen in the news, and this trend of underrepresentation has carried over from traditional news media to online outlets. Moreover, despite the growing numbers of women in the profession, they still have relatively little decision-making power inside media organizations.
It is indeed true that in recent times, we have seen more recruitment of female journalists into the profession. However, most of these women are in the broadcast media by choice. What research cannot tell is what exactly took most women to the broadcast media as each individual has her own reason.
West Africa Democracy Radio-Dakar’s Agnes E. John – Thomasi’s being in the broadcast media stemmed from the simple reason that she loved reading, using her voice, being part of drama clubs in school and church, and another broadcaster saw this and encouraged her. Despite this however, as a junior announcer/reporter at the time, she also ventured into writing for radio and in turn for Newspaper.
“I was writing for two Newspapers at the time under a pen-name and so most people except my editors knew not. It is under this premise that I would say that during that time, I realised that most women including myself felt comfortable working as broadcasters because of the various experiences. Either by design, or by the usual societal norms that found its way into our work space, men are still the dominant position holders in most of the media institutions. This, I believe, is not because women are not qualified. It is more of a stereotype that has no basis in terms of competence. This has led to most male editors-in-chief assigning competent female journalists soft bits,” saidAgnes.
Globally, only 27% of top management jobs in media organizations are held by women, only 21% of filmmakers are women and only 23% of films feature a woman protagonist, according to research.
Kaddy Jawo, an award-winning Gambian journalist said: “Women are not well represented in the Gambian media because of the patriarchal system and women are not given the chance to lead, especially managerial positions in the newsroom. The reasons are numerous, but one of the main reasons is the issue of patriarchy in the newsroom and women are side-lined, because their male counterparts think they cannot perform the job as expected, but that is not the case.”
There are women in the media that are doing incredibly well, but are still not holding leading roles in the newsroom like editors, sub-editors, and managing directors.
Some women left the media due to frustration that they remained in the same position for many years, while their male colleagues they are doing the same job with are promoted as editors and sub-editors and to other managerial positions
Jawo added: “I think I made a name for myself in journalism because I go for human interest stories that bring development and impact to our society. Journalism serves as a voice for the ordinary, marginalised and the poor. If you find yourself doing or serving, you have found your purpose as a journalist. I stood out from the rest, because I go for such stories, stories of interest and meaningful impact.”
Voices of women are rare at senior management levels in many newsrooms in Asia and the Pacific too.
Ya Awa Ceesay, former senior journalist at Paradise Fm said that in many countries, women are strongly represented in newsrooms, but media are still very male dominated when the top positions are examined.
“Women are marginalized in the newsroom both in the context of the jobs they do, and the opportunities they have to make their way in the profession. They are even marginalized in the unions that represent them. Fair gender portrayal is a professional and ethical aspiration, similar to respect for accuracy, fairness and honesty. It is the other side of the coin that says women need to be more present at higher levels of the news business, both at work and in the unions. In a world where hard news is still mainly reported and presented by men, journalists need to stand up for gender equality. This equality is not just a women’s issue; everyone benefits from eliminating discrimination,” she stated.
Sainey M.K. Marenah, CEO of The Alkamba Times hailed the contribution of women in the media but acknowledged the continuous dominance of men over them in terms of decision-making.
“Women have ever been crucial players in journalism and their contributions continue to shape and transform the media and news production, but news boardrooms and top executive media jobs are constantly delegated to male counterparts. This is largely due to a rigid patriarchal culture that propagates male dominance in the media and most sectors. Recently more women have been making breakthroughs as top media executives yet the proportion of men higher up still dominates by significant margins,” he said.
Research has shown how women, exceptionally perform in boardrooms and top executive roles in the media where women bosses are more likely to offer improved work conditions and safer settings for personnel than men.
Essa Jallow is a male journalism trainer and senior manager online at the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS).
He believes in equal opportunity for men and women in the media, and agreed, despite women outnumbering men in the profession, they continue to be led by men.
“Yes, it is true that we have more women in the field of journalism than men, and yet less women heading newsrooms. There are many reasons to explain that. There have been women leaders in the newsroom in the past, although not as much as men. But this was due to the fact that women did not venture more into the profession. Now, we have a lot more women in the profession, it is just a matter of time for them to take over the newsrooms. So far, the majority of women in the profession are less experienced than their male counterparts. The opportunities are also very limited looking at the strength of the Gambian media financially. Potential women are also leaving the profession for greener professions,” Jallow observed.
The journalism trainer and GRTS staff said there used to be women playing leading roles in media houses.
“Radio Gambia and then GRTS for example have had several women playing leading roles in Agie Lala Hydara, Amie Joof Cole, Sarah Grey-Johnson, Maria Carvalho, Jainaba Nyang, Neneh McDuol Gaye, Sabel bajan Jagnee etc.,” he recalled.
Muhammed S. Bah, Gambia Press Union President is convinced that the GPU Collective Bargaining Document would provide a solution to the underrepresentation of women in the newsrooms.
“It is important for the media chiefs to sign the Collective Bargaining Document initiated by the Gambia Press Union on the welfare of journalists despite your gender, and also the sexual harassment policy, which come to empower women because a lot of women find it difficult to get promoted,” he said.
According to an International Federation of Journalists IFJ, this could be seen not only in the newsroom but even at the level of Unions and Associations; revealing that only 5 female heads out of the 48 IFJ affiliates in Sub – Saharan Africa, which goes to show how serious this issue is.
It is evident that in circumstances where women are given the opportunities that they deserve, the canperform beyond expectation as the likes Angolan journalist Maria Louisa Carvalho who was very instrumental in covering the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), CNN war correspondent Christiana Amanpour, and the Aljazeera Palestinian journalist, Shareen Abu Ahli recently shot to dead in the line of duty by the Israeli forces.
Some few years ago, it was very rare to hear of female journalists being killed in the line of duty; butrecently, they are being specifically targeted in the line of duty.
Targeting them on duties has a huge negative impact on female journalists and the impacts they can make.
Kenyan journalist Betty Barasa was brutally killed in her home in front of her husband and children due to her work.
Added to the underrepresentation of women in the newsroom, research showed that many female journalists are not progressing and quit the profession due to sexual harassment and intimidation in the newsrooms most often perpetrated by their male counterpart.
They are also subjected to harassment and bullying online more compared to their male counterparts, which remains the greatest threat to them.
These and other challenges affecting the work and progress of female journalists should be paid a special attention for redress them for a comfortable life and a conducive work environment.
By Annette Anta Camara, President Women Journalists Association (WoJAG)