Why women are missing in the news, daily

From left: Sylvia Machini, Venterd Nkatha, Women in news (WAN-IFRA) Africa Director Jane Godia,) Amwik Executive Director Judie Kaberia, Chief Administrative Secretary in the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs Nadia Abdallah and NMG editor Dorothy Kweyu during the celebrations to mark Amwik's 40th anniversary at Crown Plaza Hotel in Nairobi on March 23, 2022. 

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Less than half a per cent of all news coverage in India, UK, US and Nigeria, featured gender equality issues.
  • In South Africa and Kenya, the coverage was less than one per cent.
  • Media stakeholders such as VWGR-Kenya, Amwik and Kenya Editors Guild are making strides in moving the scale from less than one per cent.
  • NMG has established a full-fledged gender desk and publishes a comprehensive monthly pull-out, The Voice.

Judie Kaberia was the first journalist at Capital FM, one of the radio stations in Kenya to start producing features.  That was in 2006. She was lonesome.

It was an aggressive move she had made to shift from telling brief news stories, to being a features writer producing more elaborate and informative broadcast masterpieces.

But it is a breakthrough that came out of sheer self-initiative, hard work, persuasion, and confidence in herself.

And so, the two-and-a-half minutes she was allocated on Sundays and Saturdays was more of a do-or-die moment.

She had to prove beyond reasonable doubt that her programme was commercially viable. Otherwise, it would fold soon as it started.

The feedback on her story on abuse of the morning-after pill did so well that the management would not afford to call off the programme. When the station launched its website, it integrated features.

“(In the features section) most of the stories were about women issues,” says Ms Kaberia who was later assigned to the parliamentary docket.

Having socialised with the women leaders in politics and civil society, she realised they fear journalists including the female.

Professional relationship

To remove the barrier, she set out to earn their trust by having open and friendly interactions with them. In no time, they built a cordial professional relationship.

“It became easy for me to interview them. I purposed to have women’s voices included in my stories,” she says.

Her productivity earned her a promotion as an associate editor.

“In the newsroom, I started to speak with men to have women covered and I saw a change. We had more stories some of which celebrated the resilience of women. I remained consistent in writing gender-sensitive and balanced stories,” she says.

To her name are 11 awards including being named the 2020 winner of the African Women in Media, Labour Migration Reporting awards in the category of Migration and Health.

She is also among the 10 winners of the 2020 Resilience Fellowship of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime.

Female reporters

Ms Kaberia is currently the executive director at the Association of Media Women in Kenya (Amwik).

Her struggles to get women’s voices in news tells of the hurdles that can be won if media stakeholders were gender-sensitive, willing, and intentional in addressing the gender gap in news sourcing.

A 2020 Global Media Monitoring Project report by World Association for Christian Communication, established that 31 per cent of sources in stories by female reporters are women, compared to 24 per cent in stories by male reporters.

A 2020 Missing Perspectives of Women in News,survey commissioned by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, creates a picture of women’s under-representation in the newsrooms.

It found that less than half a per cent of all news coverage in India, UK, US and Nigeria, featured gender equality issues. In South Africa and Kenya, the coverage was less than one per cent.

This writer sampled three newspapers and analysed news coverage in the exception of business news; between March 14 and March 16. For the interest of the readers, they will be labelled, M, O, and B.

Of the total 57 photos M had published only 21 featured women. This newspaper was notoriously gender blind. It had no single-gender story for all the three days. And only in one of its three main stories in its dailies did it feature a woman as a news source. This was just in two paragraphs.

One newspaper had 93 photos, an aggregate of the three days, out of which 23 included or were of women. On March 14, they published on gender story, the following day, two and the third day, five. Some were published on page two and three, the prime pages in a newspaper. They featured a woman as a news source only once in three of its daily main stories.

Similarly, during the period, newspaper B published 93 photos, of which 26 featured women. They published a total of six gender stories. Some of which were published on the prime page.

A bar graph representation of gender-sensitive photos.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

A further investigation by this writer established that of the three media houses, only two had either a female news editor or a deputy news editor.

“We need to have more women as decision-makers in the newsrooms to help us raise the coverage of women in news. We must be deliberate in increasing women’s representation in newsgathering,” says Sammy Muraya, Project Manager, Voice for Women and Girls Rights – Kenya (VWGR-Kenya), a project of the Journalists for Human Rights (JHR).

Media stakeholders such as VWGR-Kenya, Amwik and Kenya Editors Guild are making strides in moving the scale from less than one per cent.

Mr Muraya says they have trained print and broadcast journalists from different media houses across the country on gender-sensitive reporting.

“We also give grants to the journalists we have trained to go out and do those impactful gender stories, which amplify the voices of women. We are happy with the tremendous outcome of our work,” he says.

Working relationships

VWGR-Kenya also trains women on how to engage with the media and organises meetings for them with the media to network and create long-term working relationships.

Last year, they launched the inaugural Journalists for Human Rights Awards, which recognised journalists who had excelled in reporting human rights and gender issues that impact the lives of women and girls.

Apart from also training journalists on gender-sensitive reporting, Amwik has taken the lead to enable media houses fight sexual harassment that often forces out even the most equipped journalists to handle gender stories.

It has developed a model anti-sexual harassment policy to be adopted by the media houses, a sign of commitment to eliminating the scourge in the newsrooms.

Physical harassment

A 2022 joint global research on sexual harassment in the media by World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers Women in News and City, University of London found on average, 41 per cent of women media professionals across the world have experienced sexual harassment of some kind in the workplace. 

Similarly, an average of 12 per cent of male journalists have experienced either verbal or physical harassment. Other times, they have suffered both forms of sexual harassment.

In Kenya, the prevalence of sexual harassment in the media is much higher at 56 per cent.

Another 2020 The Gender Agenda: Assessing the Gender Issues in the Kenyan Media study by the Media Council of Kenya, shows the worst scenario.

That 72 per cent of the 71 journalists interviewed indicated that most media organisations don’t have gender or diversity policy - thus even discussion on addressing the vice is impossible.

Male champions

Ms Kaberia reckons that it is important to have male champions in the newsrooms to not only help in tackling sexual harassment but support the visibility of women in news.

“One of the things we have done in the fight against sexual harassment in the newsrooms is having men-to-men engagements. Through this, we established male champions,” she explains.

“We realised that we cannot make any strides without involving the men because they are the majority in the newsrooms.”

She says winning against inequality in news coverage requires not just trainings of journalists but also mentorship and regional and international media sharing best practices with the Kenyan media.

In South Africa and United States, for instance, a third of women in top-level leadership positions are women.

In these countries, between 2005 and 2015, men are quoted in online news three times more frequently than women compared to six times in India where women’s representation is seen to be progressive, found the Bill and Melinda Gate’s commissioned study.

The findings indicate that although in India, women were a minority, they were able to progress to senior leadership levels.

A map on gender representation in online news.

Photo credit: Pool | Nation Media Group

Kenya Editors Guild president Churchill Otieno, supports the idea of replicating the best practices in addressing the exclusion of women in news.

“One of the major ways of (increasing women’s representation in news) is making possible for those who know best of what women want, participate in content creation and production. That means that women are participating in reporting and editing,” he says.

He says the association continues to sensitise its members to be deliberate in generating gender-sensitive and balanced content.

On the part of the media houses, Nation Media Group (NMG) and Standard Group have appointed gender editors. Their role is mainly to increase the visibility of gender stories across print and electronic media.

NMG has, for instance, established a full-fledged gender desk and publishes a comprehensive monthly pull-out, The Voice.

NMG chief executive officer Stephen Gitagama, describes these efforts as the media house’s reflection of its commitment to generate gender-sensitive and balanced content.

This story was supported by Code for Africa’s Wanadata initiative