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Sexual harassment is rampant in Kenya but most cases go unreported.

Fifth Estate

Sexual violence has no space in our society

By Victor Bwire and Prudence Kidelo

Sexual harassment and gender inequalities unfavorable to women both in the media in the institutional structure and framing in content remain a current and important debate in the industry. This is not because it’s pronounced in the media more than in other sections of the society but because media is critical as a civic education, influencer, social change agent and protection of human rights.

We must not only scale up media coverage of these human rights violations but criminal activities that need to be eradicated from our society and improve on framing content in a manner that respects the dignity of women as human beings.

While gender inequalities are rights that can be pursued through the various existing affirmative action frameworks, sexual harassment is a criminal offence that must be treated as such. No human resource or administrative codes and manuals should reduce this criminal act, to a procedural issue that can be handled through civil approaches.

This debate and discussions around the protection of women rights in the workplace especially in the media must continue to remove the stigma around the topic of sexual harassment, for the biggest challenge lies in failure to report the cases to the relevant authorities and fear to talk about it.

Among the challenges that make dealing and solving the problem of sexual harassment from the society, including within the media sector are that many journalists and media practitioners have normalized the harassment and take it for a way of life, many feel embarrassed and ashamed to talk about it or it being known, fear of victimization and possible loss of life, fear of missing opportunities including interns fearing to miss permanent, lack of a clear channel of reporting and confidentiality, lack of trust of how the case will be handled or finding oneself exposed across media platforms.

Judie Kaberia, the Gender Media Trainer at the Voice for Women and Girls’ Rights notes that female journalists face lots of hurdles in their work. They not only have to contend with male-dominated newsrooms – from top to bottom- but the harsh vagaries that is newsgathering environment.

In her narration in the publication titled “The gender agenda: a reflection of the hurdle’s women in media face’, Kaberia points out the major struggles that women in the media face while on the job including female interns and male media managers, or my female colleagues who were fired just because they got pregnant while unmarried; or because, they got pregnant; or because they were nursing mothers.

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“First, there are very few women in editorial leadership, or those who cover male-dominated fields such as politics and crime. The few who survive to tell stories in these areas have to withstand overt or covert misogyny not just from their bosses, but also from the male news sources” Judie notes.

A research by World Wide Web Foundation & World Association of Girl Guides and Girls Scouts showed that, “52% of young women and girls have experienced online abuse, including threatening messages, sexual harassment and the sharing of private images without consent.” 

The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) in partnership with Article 19 released a survey recently which revealed that outside the newsroom, 73 per cent of the respondents spoke of the high likelihood of being sexually harassed by sources, news subjects and colleagues in the field.

Nearly 49 per cent were of the journalist respondents indicated that they were uncomfortable to speak about sexual harassment to their supervisors or persons in authority because of many factors; sometimes their supervisor is the perpetrator, embarrassment, normalisation of the vice and victimisation, just to name a few.

Among identified forms of sexual harassment noted were receiving emails or text messages with sexual content, discussing sexual relations/stories/fantasies at work, outside work, or in other inappropriate places, non-verbal conduct such as staring or gestures, jokes premised on sexual or gender, discussing sexual relations/stories/fantasies at work, outside work, or in other inappropriate places, sexual advances, propositions, suggestions or pressure for sexual activity at or outside work. Others included someone displaying sexually explicit pictures in your space or a shared space, such as at work and suggestions that sexual favours may further a person’s career, or that refusal of such may hinder it.

Recommendations to deal with the situation include the establishment of clear and safe reporting mechanisms in media houses, journalists having to be ready to speak about violation of their rights including sexual harassment, implementation of strict sexual harassment policy interventions, sensitization on sexual harassment for journalists and other workers in the sector.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 (CoK) espouses the rights of women as being equal in law to men, and entitled to enjoy equal opportunities in the political, social, and economic spheres. For instance Article 27 of the CoK obligates government to develop and pass policies and laws, including affirmative action programs and policies to address the past discrimination that women have faced. In the spirit of Article 81, the government is required to develop policies and laws to ensure that, not more than two-thirds of elective or appointive bodies shall be of the same sex.

The media is very crucial in working together with other stakeholders in the realization of the two-thirds gender provisions and advancing gender equity in society. Information resources should be accessible to both men and women to express themselves, dialogue with each other on matters touching on development process. It would be possible to give women a voice in news and current affairs, in all types of coverage and in all subject segments including news on war and peace making, finance, science, technology and politics.

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