Members of the Fourth Estate,
Media Owners and Media Practitioners,
Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Afternoon.
It is such a pleasure to be here.
Thank you the Media Council of Kenya for according me this opportunity to make a keynote address under the Media Summit Topic of Media and Gender Representation. (I can now attest that the Media Council of Kenya and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights are living up to the tenets of our joint MOU)
This afternoon, I will give my insights on Locating Media and Gender Representation from a perspective of “The Woman as a Media Sector Enabler”
The last two years have seen me participating in more conversations with journalists as opposed to simply talking to them during press conferences and briefings. Honestly, these conversations have been far more enriching and have helped me to gain a better understanding of the faces, names and humanity behind the ‘celebrities’ and the glamour and glitz that comes with the media profession - save for those unsavory moments when their human rights and fundamental freedoms are curtailed or violated.
I believe it is these conversations that truly get us to challenge mindsets, stereotypes and disempowering notions that typically set the tone when the subject of Gender and Media Representation is mentioned.
So, I am not here to lecture or address another press conference or media briefing…...Nay, I am here to have a conversation which hopefully should spur other conversations outside this hall and which will progress back to the newsrooms and in our social media groups, hang outs, coffee dates and hopefully living rooms, board meetings and finally settle in our hearts.
When I started my legal career almost three decades ago, it was the crunch time in the political history of this country. Rarely do people mention 1991… people are quick to jump to 1992 because of the first multi-party elections but in reality, so many of the cataclysmic events that took place in 1992, had their origins in 1991. So, there I was, a young lawyer, fresh from pupillage; on one hand, ambitious about making a difference in my chosen career and on the other hand wondering whether I had made a mistake joining the legal profession due to the crackdown that was going on against lawyers perceived to be working for the opposition.
At that time, the words pluralism and diversity had not filtered through the media market as it was only KBC with the monopoly of the airwaves and broadcast in radio and television industry while in the print, there was of course Kenya Times, Daily Nation, The Standard, The People and my favourite- Hilary Ng’weno’s “The Weekly Review” (1975 - 1999).
Now, one of the critical challenges that time, was that as a result of the repressive and securitized nature of the State, only men (and a few women) would dare take the path of journalism due to the inherent physical risks that attended the proffession should the dreaded special branch swoop in. Many of the VOK women “stayed in their lane” handling “wanawake mikoani” type of journalism.
But looking back in hindsight, this climate of fear that started way back during the colonial regime achieved one purpose- to entrench a one-sided media narrative that would be reported by the man, edited by the man, printed by men and directed to be listened to, read and watched by men. After all, until recently, communication gadgets in the house were owned by the heads of the households.
Perhaps this is reason why our media history tracing way back from 1932 to 1992 is dominated by men. If I may pose some mind teaser questions here;
Now you can see why an attempt to capture the topic I was assigned - Gender and Media Representation runs into a barbed wire in the first couple of minutes.
Even if we were to subject the same time frame 1932 to1992 into a content analysis of what the men were reporting, how they reported and the rationale behind their editorial decisions on coverage, content and consistency, I am sure we shall get to understand perhaps, where the rains started beating the ‘boy child’. It is not that men who were more in the newsrooms started covering the girl child - rather, the men were not grounded in the appropriate conceptual frameworks of reporting and promoting masculinity without debasing or trashing femininity.
Which now leads me to three positions that perhaps would help steer the next panel conversation.
First, attempts to address Gender dimensions in the media and its representation should move from a ‘THEM vs US’ narrative. It should move towards a unitary position that seeks to advance a progressive and collective endeavor in line with our Constitution. A “THEM vs US” campaign often reinforces populist and superficial stances or what some commentators refer to as lazy journalism. It drives the bashing of women in media platforms and sadly, women in the media have not been spared. A look at the report by Article 19 and the Association of Media Women in Kenya- Women Journalists Digital Security showcases this point. “THEM vs US” embodies a patriarchal insecurity that often uses selectively portions of religion and culture to justify why women should not be considered for promotion in the newsrooms from being a correspondent to a reporter who can interview the Speaker of the National Assembly and not ‘mess it up’.
The second position that I hope we can debate is that numbers and statistics though reflective of trends only matter when the motive is not to entrench male privilege by portraying progress made by women as tokenism.
I remember when the 2/3rd debate started and everyone was talking about it and the media was running it as a headline. While the debate was in public interest and deserved the attention, it was generating in the news cycle, a careful analysis of the content and here I can challenge the researchers in the room on the subtle ‘safe distance’ men exhibited in this debate. It was labelled as ‘Mswada wa akina Mama’ - ‘a woman’s issue’ effectively locating it within other women’s issues like child birth, menstration, caesarean sections et cetera.
By so doing, we were treated to media debate that focused on 2/3rd Gender Principle as a token given by the Constitution to women and not what the tangible contribution that increased women participation in political governance would bring the society. The societal benefit of systemizing women’s perspectives and contribution was lost.
The third position I would advance is that Gender and Media representation is a holistic enterprise and not a one-off investment. It is not a matter of simply employing more women reporters and promoting some to be editors, sub-editors and producers. It is also ensuring that the entire media house culture demonstrates, lives and reflects principles that promote Gender Justice and Empowerment in terms of safe spaces and conditions for both men and women to work free of harassment, abuse and intimidation. May I suggest therefore that every media house or corporation should have a crèche for nursing mothers to start with.
It is ensuring that equality is not just spoken and reported about as a news item but actually, it is demonstrated in the newsroom culture and during editorial meetings where story ideas are being debated and Lorna, Halima or Wakesho with her soft voice is listened to and allowed to contribute editorial ideas and supported to do her story because it merits.
Let us for a moment ponder this. Exactly one year ago, between 1st June to 30th August 2017; the African Woman and Child (AWC) Feature Service carried out research findings covering 580 news items on Gender Representation in five mainstream newspapers. The Breaking News was:
Indeed a considerable imbalance in news reporting and not a case of being sinned against than sinning, the Shakespeare’s King Lear style.
Therefore, it is evidently clear from the results of this content analysis that despite progress made in gender representation in the media, men still dominate the media in Kenya as reporters/journalists and as news sources/actors. Is it correct then to conclude that many media outlets may be operating without gender policies? Food for thought!
Capacity building for media houses with a focus on promoting gender equality and skills development that will result in fair treatment and advancement of women as news producers and news sources cannot be gainsaid.
As we break for panel discussions, it will be a worthwhile step of a thousand miles to have current information on:
In conclusion, I wish that efforts are made to document the contribution of Kenyan women in media, showcasing their stories of courage in often challenging situations both at home and in the newsrooms. Because, it is perhaps when we get to reflect on the sacrifices and compromises women media workers make in this industry, that we shall appreciate that there is more that needs to be done to ensure we have an industry that will be appealing to girls and women not only to work but also to own, lead and invest in it.
Thank you very much and may God bless the Fourth Estate!!!!
Kenya National Commission on Human Rights