Why the ‘Nation’ needs more women on opinion pages

Thursday March 9 2017

People read the 'Saturday Nation' in Kisii. PHOTO | BENSON MOMANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

People read the 'Saturday Nation' in Kisii. PHOTO | BENSON MOMANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By PETER MWAURA
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There is a glaring gender gap in the opinion pages of the Nation. There are not enough women voices. Women are not contributing as much as men to the national discourse through the opinion pages. The Daily Nation, which publishes 18 op-eds a week, has only one regular op-ed writer, Rasna Warah, who appears on Mondays. The Saturday Nation, which publishes seven and sometimes more opinion pieces, has no regular woman columnist apart from staffer Njoki Chege, who normally writes on “pink” or “girly” topics, and Gabrielle Lynch, whose pieces appear biweekly. The Sunday Nation, which publishes 14 opinion pieces, sometimes more, has no regular female op-ed writer, staff or non-staff.

ALL-MALE AFFAIR

The Nation op-eds, which dominate the national conversation, are essentially an all-male affair. On the rare occasions when woman writers intrude, they are either writing on pink topics or responding to specific occasions or challenges. On Wednesday, for example, Sicily Kariuki, who is the Cabinet Secretary for Youth and Gender Affairs wrote an op-ed on gender challenges in view of the International Women’s Day celebrated on March 8. On Monday this week, Dorothy Kweyu, a former Nation staffer, wrote on reproductive health. A week earlier, Fatuma Hirsi Mohamed, who is the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, wrote about election-related violence and tourism. The “hard topics” of general interest, particularly on politics and economics, are apparently the preserve of male columnists. It looks like female writers are saying they do not have the expertise or the knowledge to write comment on such topics.

LETTERS PAGES

It is not just in the op-ed pages. Women are also not participating fully in the letters to the editor pages. Take the last five days. The Sunday Nation published 13 letters, including items for “The Watchman” column but there was not a single letter from a woman. The Monday Daily Nation published 11 letters, including short takes but only two were from women. The Tuesday Daily Nation published 19 letters but only four were from women. The Wednesday Daily Nation published 13 letters but only two were from women. The Daily Nation yesterday published 18 letters but only one was from a woman writer. There are number of reasons for the scarcity of women writers in the opinion pages. One possible reason is that women have accepted the traditional culture that says they, like children, must be seen but not heard in public. So they do not participate in the media debates. Another possible reason is that they lack confidence in their own ability to write and contribute opinions worth reading. Yet another possible reason is that, in general, they do, in fact, lack the knowledge and skills to write. Whatever the reasons, it is important for the Nation and the country to close that gender gap. It is important because women constitute more than 50 per cent of our population and are involved in critical areas of our lives. Their voices must be heard for democracy to thrive. Women have also been agitating for the one-third-gender rule in public appointments and elective positions. The gender imbalance in the opinion pages of the Nation does not help to provide the atmosphere conducive to that bigger conversation.  Diversity of opinion is one of the requirements of the NMG editorial policy. It is also clear that having more diverse voices is one way of helping to expand our understanding of the issues facing this country. When women are not contributing enough to the public conversation, Nation readers are being short-changed in knowledge and ideas.

THE POWER

It is also important to have more women writing op-eds because columnists have the power to influence what the public thinks about news and what they should do about the big issues of the day. Columnists have the power to set the national agenda. They help frame news and even determine what news is. So when women fail to contribute adequately to the public conversation through the opinion pages of the Nation, democracy suffers.

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