Embracing Gender Equality in the African Media Space 

While the problem appears to have been accepted as a cultural and social norm in terms of women's under representation within the media, there is  a need for that  system  to change.

By Raphael Mweninguwe 

Embracing gender equality in Africa remains a tall order. Although in some sectors progress has been made, there are still challenges that need to be overcome, especially within the media industry.  

The 2022 Global Gender Gap Report (GGGR) indicates that sub-Saharan Africa has the sixth-highest regional score and has bridged 68.7% of its gender gap, the highest gender gap score in 16 years. Rwanda and Namibia have made significant improvement and are placed number one and two respectively in the region. 

The GGGR measured gender-based gaps based on four dimensions which are economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.  

Despite Rwanda and Namibia making significant gains in bridging the gender gap in some sectors, the two countries are not making progress when it comes to embracing gender equality in the media industry. 

A study on the media environment in Namibia by Africa Media Barometer in 2022 found that all heads of the country’s newspapers are male “even their second in command tends to be male, as well as those with the hard beats of politics and finance”. That is despite most newspaper journalists in the country being female. 

The report further points out that media houses in Namibia are not promoting equal opportunities for all and that gender equality within the media industry has been discussed for a long time and nothing is changing. 

The Government of Rwanda says it has made significant gains in bridging gender gaps in a number of sectors, but it has no latest statistics that show the country is making progress in embracing gender equality in the media sector. 

But its own State of Gender Equality report of 2019 the country shows that women representation in the media was just 21.5% against 78.5% for men. This shows that the media in Rwanda is also male dominated. 

A study commissioned by the Fuller Project in partnership with the Nation Media Group in Kenya to evaluate the impact the Gender Desk, which aims to amplify the perspectives of women in stories, has had among audiences, influencers, and decision makers, analysed 929 stories which were produced by the Gender Desk in the period between April 2019 and June 2021.  

The findings, which were published in 2022, show that 49% of the Gender Desk stories’ bylines were that of women, which the report says compares favorably to the benchmark of 42% of journalists in Kenya who are women. 

The African Centre for Media Excellence research shows that women in the media in Uganda comprise only an average of 20%. Across the African continent the media industry is yet to embrace gender diversity and statistics indicate that it may take years for it to be fully achieved. This applies even to senior positions within the newsrooms where positions are dominated by males like the ones in Namibia. 

A number of reasons are being advanced for this gender divide within the media industry in Africa. 

Justina Asishana, a Nigerian journalist, told Media Diversity Institute in an interview that embracing gender equality in the African media space is facing difficult challenges because of culture. She says media representation in Africa varies from country to country, “but there is still need to do more so as to bring in more diversity.” 

“But of late we have seen several countries are now embracing gender equality in the media. While there are some male dominated areas, there are also few female voices represented,” she said. 

Zimbabwean television journalist, Pindai Dube, based in the country’s capital Harare, agrees that in Africa, media is male-dominated. He says even at senior management level there are not many women making decisions within the newsrooms and blames it on cultural, structural and institutional arrangements.  

“Men are running the show and most critical positions of influence in African media are held by men. Although in recent years we have seen some brave women grabbing a very little portion in this industry,” he says. 

Dr Levi Manda, a media trainer in Malawi, says in terms of recruitment and graduation, there are almost the same numbers of women and men “but in the field most women transition to public relations, spokespersons etc and this contributes to newsrooms being dominated by men.” 

A global challenge 

Manda says lack of media diversity is not only seen in Africa but globally. He observes that the Worlds of Journalism Study statistics indicate that the number of women in journalism in Africa is not very different from those in Asia, Europe, and America.  

“The trend is worldwide,” he says. 

In the article presented at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting held in January 2023, Jeanne Bourgault, President and Chief Executive Officer of Internews, says “women remain under-represented in both news and newsrooms across the world.” She points out that women are very much on the margins of “editorial decision-making in the highest-profile news beats.” 

UN Women estimates that 1 in every 3 managers or supervisors working in any sector is a woman. And the UN agency says at the current pace of change, parity will not be achieved for another 140 years. 

A study by Luba Kassova and AKAS commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and published in 2022 indicates that for “every woman who is an editor-in-chief, there are between two [in South Africa, the US and the UK] and 12 [in Indian regional news outlets] male editors-in-chief.” 

Although globally the situation looks almost the same in terms of gender inequality, the disparity is particularly evident in Africa, partly because of a culture that limits women from occupying senior positions within the media sector. 

In Kenya and Nigeria, the Luba Kassova and AKAS study reveals that 1 in 5 Editors-In-Chiefs are women representing 19% and 18% respectively. And in South Africa, according to the study, 40% of the editors are women and 13% of women in Kenya are holding the position of an editor. 

“In general, this is not a healthy situation, so to speak in terms of media diversity,” says Dube, adding “The situation is, however, improving not only at a global level but also at an African regional level.” 

Possible solutions 

Media diversity in Africa faces a number of challenges. These challenges include lack of education, lack of technical know-how, and culture.  

“The whole world should encourage women to take up journalism training programmes. If it is culture, then it is a worldwide culture. There is a need for research into what keeps the numbers of female journalists low in newsrooms,” says Manda. 

“We also need to empower women. Let us train them so that they, too, occupy decision making positions,” says Efrida Mwale-Banda, a now retired public relations officer during the first years of Malawi’s multiparty democracy.  

Mwale-Banda, 63, says most media houses are dominated by men and she says for media diversity and inclusion to be successful “there is need to educate more female journalists and employ them.” 

While the problem appears to have been accepted as a cultural and social norm in terms of women’s under representation within the media, there is  a need for that  system  to change.

But for this shift to happen Kassova and AKAS believe  change needs to take place at three levels which are the societal or systemic, the organizational, and the individual.  

While admitting that hiring more women journalists is part of the solution, Bourgault in her presentation to the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos says this is not enough. She pointed out that for more diversity, newsrooms should not be built solely on financial considerations.  “Organisations need to be intentional about change at all levels within their structure. It’s not enough to just make a plea to hire more women. Before creating the strategy it’s imperative to carry out a gender audit across the whole news value chain – this can help to identify the problem areas,” she observed

Dube says while the trend of putting more women in leadership position is improving,

“we need to encourage more women participation in media activities so that they can also grab more opportunities in African media sector. Women needs to be motivated and show that it is possible for them to dominate the sector.” 

Asishana believes bridging the gender gap within the media is possible. She says most newsrooms in Nigeria have begun having female representation on their management and editorial boards. She says in some cases women are having equal pay with men.  

“Bridging the gender divide can be done by promoting gender equity in media education, hiring and training more female journalists for the job, getting more female sources, and greater representation of women’s stories that reflect their diverse realities,” she says.

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