Women have done exceptionally well in media in Kenya despite their small numbers in decision-making positions in the newsroom. While they remain few, they have always tried to to make an impact.
Quality is always ahead of quantity, and any discussion aimed at merely increasing the number of women in the newsroom without looking at merit and the excellent results they have shown already is missing the point.
In addition, away from the mainstream media, a number of women head a number of the local language-based stations, play critical roles in the community and college radio stations, and are scooping a lot of media/journalism awards.
It is impressive to note that some of the media houses, and institutions have put in place gender policies, affirmative action interventions and merit-based regulations to ensure non -discrimination of women in opportunities.
This, however, is not to say that gaps do exist and more needs to be done. Unlike in elective and appointive positions, pushing so much on affirmative action and especially in places where guys are performing well despite formerly structural and cultural challenges might lead to misconception.
The list of women who have occupied senior positions in media including editorial heads, Managing Editors, Associate editors, News Editors, Fatures Editors, Editorial Administrative editors and chief/deputy chief editors is very impressive. Just a few names; Esther Kamweru, Rosemary Okello, Jane Godia, Faridah Karoney, Rhodah Orengo, Dorothy Kweyu, Lucy Oriangi, Catherine Gacheru, Jemimah Mungai, Pamella Sitoni, Njeri Rugene, Joan Peruan, Pamellah Asigi, Jamilla Mohammed, Ellen Wanjiru, Linda Bach, Susan Kasera, Carol Kimutai, Mercy Oburu, Lydiah Manyasi, Josephine Karani, Rachael Nakitare, Caroline Wafula,Judy Ogacha, Dinnah Ondari, Mary Daraja, Christine Nguku, Rebecca Mutiso, Rachel Ombaka, Ruth Nesoba, Jael Rieta, Jane Masiga, Yvonne Okwara, Christine Ojiambo, Susan Kiprono, Agnes Mwangangi, Judie Kaberia, Mercy Njoroge, Susan Karago, Patience Nyange, Nancy Agutu, Betty Dindi, Zipporah Musau, Jillo Kadida, Everlyne Kwamboka, Lillian Odera, Faith Oneya, Kwamboka Oyaro Lillian Aluanga, Dorcas Odumbe, Quinter Mbori, Sara Bakata, Physllis Nyambura, Anne Soy, Wayua Muli, Kanze Dana, Judy Munyinyi, Ruth Keya among others. In the academy we have Prof Wambui Kiai, Dr Nancy Booker, Dr Lydiah Anyonje, Dr Dorothy Njoroge, Njoki Chege, Dr Joy Omwoha, just but to name a few.
These are highly professional women journalists and academic giants that have inspired and diminished the notion of women requiring favours to perform. They have worked alongside male journalists and managers in the newsrooms to take our journalism to the global stage. And as repeatedly mentioned, this does not mean that there are no structural and cultural, not necessarily professional challenges that have stood in the way of women and men progressing in the profession. Among them has been non structured entry, progress and promotion in the newsroom, labour practices that allow people to work without contracts and structured performance appraisals, sexual harassment and lack of stability and job security in the media.
The bigger challenge in the media is largely around the issue of coverage of women and presentation including the issues of framing. Where media really needs to help is using the media to reduce the stereo types and using the media to enhance women in elective positions.
“Serious emphasis and sustained reporting on inequalities meted on women and girls need more space and airtime on our media. There is more the media can do to expose these violations of women and girls’ rights in our communities,” Judie Kaberia of the Voice of Women and Girls Project notes. “ Media must focus and expose the plight of girls and women still going through outdated traditional practices such as FGM, early forced marriages that continue to slow their progress,” she adds.
The media has a very big potential in contributing to changing the perception about women and by extension in allowing them to compete for positions on the decision-making table. Let the media give women aspiring for elective positions space to share aspirations aimed at promoting them and act as a campaign platform. By featuring in media programs or increasing their voices across media platforms, the women are able to reclaim their right to discuss issues related to their political interest in the public sphere using the media.
Media should lead in putting attention and setting agenda on issues that will remove obstacles on women progressing and violating their rights. To stop violation of women and girl rights, we need a critical mass of people who understand and support the course; media is important in civic education and public awareness to change the narrative. Studies and reports have shown that mass media is an information source that is widely available to the general public; TV shows receives the highest rate of attention among viewers and hence the media has a great impact of voters’ perception about candidates’ participation in politics.
In recent years, social media has become increasingly prevalent campaigns to achieve social change. These include the use of texting (SMS), internet- based online platforms including blogs, whatsup, facebook among others.
The author is the Deputy Chief Executive Officer at the Media Council of Kenya