FEATURE ON IWD2020 – EQUAL AND INCLUSIVE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN THE MEDIA

The recurring debate about expanding and strengthening women’s voices in the media took on even more significance at the recent commemoration of the 45th International Women’s Day 2020, on March 8, in Abuja. Professional journalists gathered to ask for a minimum industry charter, including policies that will be enforced to address the problem of inequality and imbalance in the media industry and its storytelling.

Healthy remuneration, empowering women in journalism through training and mentorship, as well as putting policies in place to eliminate discriminatory practices were recommendations prominent at the roundtable discussion to commemorate the International Women’s Day organised by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) through her Media Freedom project in partnership with Free Press Unlimited. The theme was Inclusive and Equal Portrayal of Women by the Media.

Mercy Njoku, former General Manager at the Kapital FM Radio in Abuja,  while sharing her experience as a manager at a government-owned media house stated that climbing up the ladder for her was on account of  “one’s hard work, the amount of work one has put in, more like merit-based movement up the ladder.” Echoing her, Linda Akihgbe, a political correspondent at Channels TV, shared similar experiences although she adds “the ability to sell oneself, tell one’s story and pitch greater story ideas to seniors,” could help define the boundaries of success for any journalist on the beat.

Ms Akihgbe also recounts how male colleagues would often tell her that journalism was not for women especially when she covered supposedly tough beats thought to be the exclusive preserve of men.

Vanessa Offiong, a freelance investigative reporter, spoke on her experience as that reporter who had all the cards decked against them, adding, “In my own case, I was sidelined, treated poorly, at times when you did not get promoted and you complained, all you got was an additional assignment which was to determine if you would ultimately get promoted the next time.”

Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher of Premium Times, enjoined people in positions of power or authority in the newsroom to prioritise the need for training, mentorship, and deliberate decisions that address the current flaws in the newsroom in support of women empowerment.

The panellists also discussed the impact of culture and religion on the treatment of women generally and in professional capacities. Mrs Mercy Njoku suggested that ardent advocacy for affirmative action that prioritises women inclusion is needed to bridge the gap between men and women in the society.  Other members of the panel agreed that such affirmative action was required. Dapo Olorunyomi, however, cautioned that the slow turning wheels of Nigeria’s legislative process will prove an impediment to reaching this goal. He advised that premium be placed on advocacy that targets corporate policies and procedures and individual behavioural change as these are low hanging fruits because constitutionally backed affirmative action is a long-term goal that will be a culmination of advocacy efforts such as has been outlined.

At an animated tweet dialogue after the roundtable tagged: Looking Inward: Checking the Media’s Gender Bias and Designing Corrective Measures, which featured women in media as discussants. Hannah Ojo, Madina Maishanu, Mercy Abang, and Busola Ajibola explored how the media can promote gender diversity and inclusion in storytelling.

Discussants argued for women to be given the same beats as men in the newsroom as evidence of inclusivity and for stories to have a balance of female and male voices.

“Most of the time women are assigned to beats that are of less importance or are simply attached to fashion or food etc. I believe women should be assigned to the same important beats as everyone else”, remarked Madina Maishanu Broadcaster, Voice of America Washington DC.

Journalists asked for more reforms in news organisations through enforcement of policies to incorporate women’s voices in the narrative development of stories, legislation on affirmative action, positive values that need to shape the workplace, mentorship for reporters especially female reporters, creation of safe spaces for women to challenge stereotypes at all levels, as well as the hiring of more women and greater education on gender sensitivity.

The PTCIJ had kick-started its commemoration of the International Women’s Day with a nationwide online/social media campaign where audiences were asked to share experiences of gender stereotypes on social media. Participants were also asked to send in their pictures and quotes speaking to gender equality and inclusion. These were put on pre-designed posters and sent back to participants who used it on social media as part of the campaign for female inclusion in the media as well as other spheres of society. These picture and quote campaign recorded the most response with over 50 people participating across several  social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

History of the International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day (IWD) has been observed since the early 1900’s – a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies, according to internationalwomensday.

The accounts stated broadly that “Great unrest and critical debate was occurring amongst women. Women’s oppression and inequality were spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

“In accordance with a declaration by the Socialist Party of America, the first National Woman’s Day (NWD) was observed across the United States on 28 February 1909. Women continued to celebrate NWD on the last Sunday of February until 1913.

“In 1910 a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin (Leader of the ‘Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany) tabled the idea of an International Women’s Day. She proposed that every year in every country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The conference of over 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs – and including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament – greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval and thus International Women’s Day was the result.

“International Women’s Day was celebrated for the first time by the United Nations in 1975. Then in December 1977, the General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions. Read Here

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