Female journalists under-represented in leadership roles

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Alvine Kapitako

Windhoek – With equality rhetoric and policies being implemented in some sectors, including the government, women have taken on duties that were previously male dominated, which include leadership positions.
And, in light of World Press Freedom Day that was observed on May 3, New Era spoke to journalists and commentators on female journalists getting their ‘hands dirty’ by taking on investigative and ‘serious’ journalism, as well as their occupation of leadership positions.

Part of the objective of the National Gender Policy 2010-2020 is to promote women’s access to information and communication technology and eliminate the negative portrayal of women and girls.
According to the policy, the media has an important role to play in informing and educating society on gender issues.

Gender concerns in the media include the portrayal of women and girls as well as women’s access to, and awareness of, information and communication technologies (ICTs).
Another issue is the representation of women in media houses at managerial level and decision-making, the National Gender Policy states. The editor of The Patriot newspaper, Mathias Haufiku, commented that there are more women than men in newsrooms “which is a welcome change”. The problem, Haufiku said, remains at the top where men continue to dominate.

“In my own experience, female journalists tend to opt for soft beats (also known as specialised reporting) and do not want to get their hands dirty through digging. We need to motivate female journalists to go beyond the conventional stories and start taking on big stories,” Haufiku said.

However, Maria Amakali, a court reporter at New Era newspaper, does not agree that female journalists do not want to get their hands dirty by digging beyond conventional stories.

Amakali’s experience is that some sources tend to trust or favour male journalists more with certain information. Likewise, some sources would feel more comfortable talking to female journalists, Amakali explained. For example, a source is more likely to trust a female journalist on a story of rape than a male journalist, Amakali said. She also disagrees that female journalists tend to select soft beats.

“We are just placed in a position but if we are given the opportunity we do have the will and determination to excel,” she added.

On females occupying leadership positions, Amakali remarked: “I’m not sure if we don’t do well in interviews or maybe we don’t apply for leadership positions.” She remained adamant however that women are willing to take up leadership positions.

“I don’t know if we fail in interviews but I know a lot of female journalists who are overqualified for their positions. It needs to change,” emphasised Amakali.

On a positive note Amakali does not believe there is much discrimination against women in leadership positions, applauding the fact that equality policies are in place at many media houses.
“There is not much discrimination but more needs to be done for women to take up leadership positions in media organisations. Or maybe our society is still embedded in thinking that only men should be in leadership positions,” added Amakali.

The NBC’s chief commercial officer for commercial services, Umbi Karuaihe-Upi, noted there are intelligent and influential women in the media, some of whom own media houses.  

Still, they are in the minority, she added. “On the level of boards female media experts are under-represented. When it comes to CEOs and director-generals, women are still in the minority. As for editors in Namibia, the majority are men. More needs to be done to increase the overall women representation in decision-making positions,” added Karuaihe-Upi.

Karuaihe-Upi, who is a professional journalist herself, stressed that empowerment and gender equality are crucial in and through the media.

This is because the media plays an integral role in society and is the conveyer of ideas and role-modelling that eventually could change behaviours in the long run, Karuaihe-Upi explained.

In the past there were very few female journalists who covered beats such as politics, economics, sports, courts, science and war around the globe, she noted.

“But today if you look around you will find that women covering those beats have increased. In Namibia it is also applicable. The journalist covering our president is a woman, Blanche Goreses,” said Karuaihe-Upi.
Likewise, the Namibian print media has “quite a few women covering those beats. My view on female journalists being assigned softer beats, like community health, human interest and entertainment is that beats are assigned according to the assessment of the editor about the skills and qualities of the particular reporter,” she said.
Linked to this are the reporters themselves who opt to do the softer beats, as a matter of their own interest, the media guru noted.

In the past and even now there are journalists such as Gwen Lister, Estelle Pienaar and Norah Appolus who opted to do political stories, she said. “They were highly capable and have proven themselves,” Karuaihe-Upi remarked. Financially, having journalists to just focus on specialised reporting is not cost-effective, noted Karuaihe-Upi. “Most organisations and media houses use their journalists to cover a wide range of beats. This assists in saving costs and creating multi-skilled journalists.”

New Era also spoke to the executive director of Women’s Action for Development, Salatiel Shinedima, who shared experiences of women who were sidelined because of their biological make-up.

“Some employers may be hesitant to employ women in leadership roles because they go on maternity leave and are more likely to go on sick leave to care for their children,” said Shinedima.

“To an employer that is time,” added Shinedima. Shinedima opined that there is nothing wrong with appointing a woman displaying leadership skills into leadership and empowering her through training.
Haufiku stresses that female journalists should be motivated to go beyond conventional journalism.

“Women have a greater skillset over men when it comes to conducting research, which has been scientifically proven, so I see no reason why female journalists cannot eclipse their male counterparts,” Haufiku elaborated.
On her part, Karuaihe-Upi urged female journalists to work hard. “My advice to fellow female journalists is to always make sure you can acquire one additional unique skill that others might not have. That will put you one step ahead of the rest,” advised Karuaihe-Upi.  

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