Women’s voices matter; enough with ‘manel’ webinars

Three webinar posters in the last month awakened us to the fact that exclusion of women’s voices is commonplace in the virtual space.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Three webinar posters in the last month awakened us to the fact that exclusion of women’s voices is commonplace in the virtual space as it is in the physical space.
  • A webinar hosted by St. Paul’s University Chapel Life Group with two male panellists; a male doctor and a male priest, discussing the dangers of contraceptives especially for women.
  • The second was hosted by the University of Nairobi (UoN) on the topic of African historical, social and cultural scholarship. 
  • A third one hosted by Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Minister Najib Balala on World Rhino Day on September 22, featured seven men to discuss the business of rhinos.

One of the unintended outcomes of Covid-19 has been the democratisation of knowledge-sharing from the exclusive traditional university lecture halls to the more inclusive online space through webinar discussions.

These webinars have become popular with dozens of panels on various topics being hosted by Kenyan institutions.

Despite these opportunities for expression of men and women leaders in different sectors, exclusion of women in the online space has shown that old habits of all-male panels (manels), and one token-woman speaker in a sea of men remain pervasive.

Three webinar posters in the last month awakened us to the fact that exclusion of women’s voices is also commonplace in the virtual space as it is in the physical space.

Contraceptives

These three posters included a webinar hosted by St. Paul’s University Chapel Life Group with two male panellists; a male doctor and a male priest on September 12, discussing the dangers of contraceptives especially for women.

 The second was hosted by the University of Nairobi (UoN) on the topic of African historical, social and cultural scholarship.  A third webinar hosted by the Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Minister Najib Balala on World Rhino Day on September 22, featured seven men to discuss the business of rhinos.

Curious whether these were isolated cases, we did a quick search of the words ‘webinar Kenya’ on Facebook and looked at events held in August and September 2020. While our list is probably not conclusive, we came across 17 events tackling a range of issues.

Stereotypical topics

We found majority of the conversations included either ‘manels’ or featured a disproportionately lower number of women. In fact, the three panels that had an all-women panel dealt with stereotypical topics such as breastfeeding, wellness and women’s health.

These findings did not shock us because like some of our readers, we already knew that women are often excluded from participating in public discourses.

The gender of speakers on a panel is not a trivial matter. Whoever holds the microphone has power to bring forward their knowledge, opinions and perspectives, and shape how people think about issues.

Gender parity

So, the exclusion of the voices of women ultimately limits society’s access to the knowledge, experiences and thoughts of one-half of the population.

It is time for organisers of webinars to examine their contribution to reinforcing stereotypes that imply the intellectual labour of women is unimportant and unwelcome in public discussions.

We would also like to challenge men who are invited to these panels to demand gender parity. So next time you are invited to a ‘manel,’ use your privilege to demand that women are invited to the table.

Dinfin Mulupi is a Journalism Studies PhD student at the University of Maryland, USA. dmulupi@terpmail.umd.ed

Dr Njoki Wamai is an Assistant Professor at the International Relations Department at USIU Africa. nwamai@usiu.ac.ke