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Agnes Kavindu Muthama is vying for the Machakos Senate seat.

Fifth Estate

Media key in changing narrative on gender imbalance

The nomination of Agnes Kavindu Muthama by the Wiper Movement Party in the forthcoming senatorial election in Machakos and related media coverage indicates the continued challenges in the gender debate. While the gender debate in Kenya has mainly centered on the appointments in the public service and party politics, the situation has not been any better in the media coverage.

Modest steps have been made by the media in shaping the gender debate even as the sector struggles to mainstream gender issues within its internal processes While the media has highlighted the widening gender imbalance, the sector itself has proved to be different in the way it treats women, both in terms of distributing leadership positions and in allocating space for coverage.

I read many media outlets, both online and offline and any internet search and see the below headlines or captions’

“Agnes Kavindu Muthama will fly Wiper party ticket in the upcoming Machakos senatorial by-election hoping to clinch the seat once held by her ex-husband Johnstone Muthama”.  “Kalonzo Unveils Muthama Ex-wife as Wiper Party Machakos Senatorial Candidate”

It is catchy and has a strong political message yes but despite being her own person and having done very well in the 2017 election as a candidate, and obvious thinking about such a headline increasing readership, the approach shows how the debate on gender and by extension affirmative action in Kenya is still nascent.

Efforts including two-thirds law and related will still influence this cultural and informal challenges that face the gender debate. Laws might help much, more importantly, professional goodwill is what might be missing. Even without going into the details of who wrote the headlines and captions, in terms of gender, for we are aware that even media houses face the men and women imbalance, we see might discern that our major challenge is the traditional way of doing things rather than laws and procedures. For many of these media houses have internal gender policies, including the code of ethics for the practice for journalism administered by the Media Council of Kenya and several training and interventions on gender-sensitive reporting have been done before.

The Kenya Constitution 2010 has very progressive provisions that guarantee affirmative action, especially for formerly marginalized groups including women and youth. The Constitution puts in place several provisions guiding elections at both the national and county levels, requiring women to occupy seats in many electoral positions.

Given the potential role the media can play in civil education and exposing women to the vast opportunities provided by the Constitution, it is important that special interventions are espoused to ensure that women access information on the same.  

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“Media is one of the key agents that would be helpful in changing the narrative on gender issues especially affirmative action and the place it has in reducing imbalances on women and girls” the Voice of Women and Girls Project, a project notes in its publications.  It notes that media must be in the forefront to protect and promote the rights of the vulnerable including women and girls, by contextualizing and shaping the proper narrative and framing of things.

Women forging new political ground often must struggle to receive media coverage and legitimacy in the eyes of the media and subsequently the public. For one to be noticed, she must act in a manly way to prove a point. Journalists often hold such women accountable for the actions of their husbands and children standard which are regretfully not applied to the male counterparts, yet gender equality lies at the core of human rights approach development. Gender inequality arises out of the roles and responsibilities that society prescribes for women and which are held fast in place through gender relations based on power.  More often men believe that women are not supposed to be controversial, appear critical and argue their point across.

Women are seldom portrayed as politicians, newsmakers, experts, and business leaders. Most of these are normally associated with the male folk although women too have also successfully ventured in this field emerging top. Kavindu is a case in point,  though it seems as an isolated case.

In her book The River and the Source, one of the set books in Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), Margaret Ogola outlines the importance of the girl child. She notes “….. a home without daughters is like a spring without a source…” The book urges people to break away from traditions that do not respect the position of women in society. Kenya has made significant progress in terms of policies to ensure that the girl has fair access to opportunities.

Notably, the establishment of the National Gender Equality Commission (NGEC). The Commission derives its mandate from Articles 27, 43, and Chapter 15 of the Constitution and section 8 of NGEC Act (Cap. 15) of 2011, with the objectives of promoting gender equality and freedom from discrimination.

Karin Achtelstetter  of the World Association of Christian Communication (WACC) General Secretary, stated: “News and news media are powerful forces that help shape the way people view their society and themselves, and contribute to how people act – at home, schools, work, through to the political choices they may make.” She further notes that, the portrayal of women in day-to-day journalism does not reflect their contribution to society. 

Victor Bwire is the Deputy CEO at the Media Council of Kenya

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