What you need to know:
- In reality the existence of media freedom within the industry has grown for men more than it has for women.
- Women remain at the mercy of one of the most powerful yet stubbornly male-centred professions in Kenya today.
Twice in one month, Public Editor Peter Mwaura has written about the need for inclusion of more women in the opinion pages of the Daily Nation.
Women journalists and media producers would agree with him on that - and little else.
His argument that women need mentorship or some other form of “help” to be opinion columnists is very far off base.
It is a pretence that the media as a sector is run on principles of fairness and inclusivity when it is not and to shift the blame for these shortcomings and suggest women are unable to match the challenge, is unfair.
Mwaura suggests the scarcity of women writers in the opinion pages could possibly be their acceptance of traditional culture that allows them to be seen and not heard in public.
Or a lack confidence. Or a lack of ability to write effectively. The loud response to that is - No! There are fundamental issues that disproportionately affect women.
In reality the existence of media freedom within the industry has grown for men more than it has for women.
How can women break into a profession that is run as a permanent “boys’ club” with decisions made where women are absent?
Years of lobbying eventually persuaded editorial managers of the need to advertise positions.
Today, we at least get to learn of most entry level openings although adverts of senior positions are rare.
Media women (and men who understand the situation) watch as managers seek out their chosen few to write and can attest that it is not an accident that opinion pages are dominated by men.
There is now only one woman editorial manager at the Nation so who will seek out women writers if that is the structure?
For Mwaura to suggest that there are no women to write is all part of the patronising drivel women associated with the media endure daily.
It is this verbal bullying that is more to blame for keeping women away, very much like the condescending and dismissive language used when, in his column, he tagged Njoki Chege’s dedicated writing a few weeks ago as “pink” and “girly”.
For goodness sake, she is a “girl” – or more appropriately a woman - and she should never be expected to write like a “boy”.
The constant belittling of women’s ideas, concerns and perspectives carries into the media houses where women tell of years and even decades of stagnant, frustrated careers while watching their peers advance.
Women remain at the mercy of one of the most powerful yet stubbornly male-centred professions in Kenya today.
Women do not need mentorship, or affirmative action or any condescending forms of support and platitudes from men.
The point of having women write is not to make them write like men but to get another perspective, to get a second take on issues and concerns – even the pink and girly ones.
Media women have often chosen to hold these conversations directly with those concerned, reasoning that they are part of one profession.
The Association of Media Women in Kenya whose name is self-explanatory, has for decades engaged directly with extremely reluctant editorial managers and decision-makers, encouraging them to promote women’s voice.
Data and surveys on the status of women in the media have been shared and 23 years ago the AWC feature service began training women to prepare them to write on policy and share their opinion on issues.
Some of these efforts have had impact in changing the media environment for women but clearly the goals are far from achieved.
All this sorrowful hand-wringing when it comes to including women is very tired and quite boring.
It’s time for the media and Nation Media Group, in particular, to stop talking about it as though its a dilemma of monumental proportions.
Throw down the challenge and provide space for women. Let’s see if there is a shortage of takers.
Ms Lukalo heads the Media Policy Research Centre. [email protected]