By Kemiso Wessie

Women remain underrepresented across various sectors in our society, including elected representatives, business executives, academia, and the media. This disparity results in news stories predominantly focusing on and quoting men. Furthermore, when women are featured in the news, they are often portrayed as victims with limited agency, particularly in cases of violence or conflict. 

   Photo: Image by Mamewmy via Freepik

In 2021, the Reuters Institute found that only 22% of top editors were women, despite women making up 40% of journalists in the 12 markets studied. To address this imbalance, newsrooms must take appropriate steps, and training the next generation of journalists with gender sensitivity is vital.

AJENda reached out to Catherine Gicheru, the founder and head of the Africa Women Journalism Project for insights into gender in journalism and how to create more inclusive and safe spaces for women in the media.

Gicheru highlights that this can be achieved by  updating journalism education programms, using gender case studies, inviting diverse guest speakers, encouraging critical media analysis, offering specialized gender courses, providing gender-sensitive reporting training, promoting diversity and inclusion discussions, collaborating with media organizations, ensuring gender equality in newsroom simulations, encouraging gender-related research, and organizing workshops for educators. Regularly assessing the effectiveness of these efforts through feedback helps identify areas for improvement, Gicheru adds.

To sensitise journalists in Africa to gender equality and representation issues, Gicheru highlights various measures that can be taken, including conducting regular training sessions and workshops, developing a code of ethics for gender-sensitive reporting, and assigning journalists to specialized gender beat reporting, covering gender-related issues and stories. “Gender-beat reporting increases their expertise in this area,” says Gicheru.

 In addition to this, promoting inclusive language and integrating gender sensitivity training in journalism schools are all measures aimed at fostering more inclusive and balanced reporting.

When teaching gender sensitivity in African journalism education, educators might face cultural norms and stereotypes that are deep-rooted in African societies. Gicheru advises that this “may hinder students’ willingness to embrace gender sensitivity concepts. Traditional beliefs may perpetuate unequal gender roles and limit the recognition of gender biases in the media.”

Other possible challenges include a lack of time and resources. Gicheru adds that “the curriculum may already be too packed, leaving little time for in-depth discussions on gender sensitivity.” However, the fact remains that newsrooms overall need to prioritize gender-sensitive reporting, which can create a disconnect between what students learn and what they may encounter in the field.

Journalists can combat sexism and discrimination against women in the media, but only if they’re given the necessary tools to do so. Gender stereotypes that pigeonhole women primarily as caregivers influence the assignment of reporting tasks in newsrooms.

Gicheru provides the example that women journalists are entrusted with and pushed more towards writing on lower profile and slower-paced beats, such as entertainment, lifestyle, and education, while men take on agenda-setting beats such as politics and the economy, which are considered a more masculine domain, particularly in the global south.

Women journalists must continuously prove themselves deserving of the assignments that are perceived to be the preserve of male journalists. Gicheru says that “despite their competence, they find their career progression halted by glass (or rather concrete) ceilings.”

Compiling a directory of women contributors and experts for journalists as is done by Quotethiswoman, for example, can be useful in the fight against sexism and discrimination in the professional sphere. Additionally, measuring the proportion of women experts featured on conference panels (#SayNoToManels) and in reports reveal how gender-balanced or otherwise content is. It is important to ask “Who is writing the story?” and consider adapting the Global Media Monitoring Project’s gender compass to reflect the stories. 

But it goes back to the classroom. Educators should ensure that they are staying updated on current research and resources, diverse gender identities and orientations, including terminology, challenges, and experiences would be of great benefit to the classroom and students. In addition to this, it is important to use inclusive language that acknowledges and respects diverse gender identities and orientations.

Gicheru adds that educators should avoid using gendered language when addressing the class as a whole, as well as asking students for their preferred pronouns and names and use them consistently. Assumptions based on appearance or previous knowledge should be avoided.

Combatting sexism and discrimination against women in the media requires equipping journalists with the necessary tools. Journalism educators can play a vital role in preparing students to report on 

gender issues in a way that challenges stereotypes and promotes gender equity.