OPINION: ‘I was told not to join media because being a female journalist is difficult’


The Women In News (WIN) 2018 Kenya participants during their first national gathering. With them is ...
The Women In News (WIN) 2018 Kenya participants during their first national gathering. With them is their coach Christine Nguku.

In Summary

  • We were also reminded of women politicians not just in Kenya but globally.
  • Mildred pulled up three caricatures: one was of Millie Odhiambo the time that she walked out of parliament and was depicted in a cartoon as having stripped off all her clothes.
  • The second one was of female MPs inside the famous hustler's jet depicted massaging the deputy president.
  • The third cartoon on the screen was that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel with her boobs out on the front cover of a Polish magazine, the title, Europe's Step-Mother.

“I was told not to join media because being a female journalist is difficult.”

This is a comment that one of the participants for the Women in News Leadership (WIN) program shared with us on Friday.

We had taken a break for lunch after a five-hour morning session discovering what the 10 of us would encounter during the nine-month training.

Someone else told us how she “made a mistake” by telling off one of her bosses who wanted sexual favours but she declined.

She lost her job as a female journalist because of it.

To which one of the day’s speakers Mildred Ngesa  responded: “Mistake? Why would you call speaking out against sexual harassment a mistake? It is not a mistake!”

Ngesa is a Pan-African Media & Communications Specialist, an award winning journalist who also dabbles in poetry aside from international public speaking and moderating events.

Other participants revealed almost similar experiences: stagnation because of the supposed glass ceiling, training juniors only for them to take over as bosses and only being assigned feature stories because “political stories are for men”.

We all had something to say about how “being a female journalist is difficult.”

When I was asked what I could share with the group, I thought for a moment, not sure if I wanted to expose myself but decided to talk about my fight with self-confidence and esteem.

I also always doubted my abilities in the work place because I did not have formal qualifications as a journalist; turns out I wasn’t the only one.

But it’s not just in the media. We were reminded of women politicians for example, not just in Kenya but globally.

Ngesa pulled up three caricatures: one was of Mbita MP Millie Odhiambo, during the time that she walked out of parliament.

In the cartoon, she was depicted as having stripped off all her clothes in protest.

The second one was of female MPs inside the famous hustler’s jet: they were depicted massaging the deputy president who was drawn laying on a bed inside the plane.

There was hue and cry across the political divide over this particular caricature.

Ironically, none of us could remember if anyone (male or female) stood up for Millie Odhiambo.

The third cartoon on the screen was that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel with her boobs out on the front cover of a Polish magazine, the title, Europe’s Step-Mother.

She has had many other sexist caricatures of her drawn over the years.

Christine Nguku, coach of the WIN program Kenya chapter later played a video of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg giving a Ted X talk titled Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.

Nguku is a renowned journalist who for the longest time was known as one of the few female TV anchors at KTN.

In the 15-minute-long recording, Sheryl reveals how she once went to give a pitch at a “fancy” office in New York.

After a few hours, they are given a break to go freshen up but the partner running the meeting gets embarrassed: he does not know where the ladies bathroom is.

Sheryl asks if they just moved in but he says they have been around for almost a year, a response which shocks her because why would you not know where the ladies’ toilet is?

“Are you telling me that I am the only woman who has been in this office to pitch a deal in a year?” she asks.

He responds: “Yeah…or maybe you’re the only one who had needed to go to the bathroom.”

It seems like such a small issue but it cuts across what women go through around the world.

What may seem obvious to women is almost always not that obvious to the opposite gender.

Sheryl shifts the gear slightly and touches on how women plan their careers if at all they do.

She questions why women have been comfortable taking the back seat not just because of exterior challenges but because they settle for what society expects of them.

Why is that do you think? And do we as both men and women let societal expectations and culture continue to dictate how we respond?

A lot can be said about work-life balance and being intentional about the career and life decisions we make as women, whether single, married, divorced or widowed.

However, as the WIN Project Manager Jane Godia reiterated, the choice to succeed remains that of an individual.

Extremely difficult choices have to be made about how to get to the top as a woman; when to have a family or not and who remains home when there is a crisis; what are the challenges other women in the industry have faced and how did they deal or not; how can we use this to get to where we want to be or where we want our daughters and sons to be?

To cut the long story short, women have difficult experiences irrespective of which job they have; be it in the office or at home.

Most of the times we fail or give up because we are “feeding the wrong foxes” meaning that we are just focusing on the negatives of life as Mildred Ngesa says.

What makes a woman succeed is how she decides to respond to the hand she is dealt. And success is relative, depending on where you are at this particular moment.

So what can you take away from your own experiences and that of those around you? Chin up!

Note: The Women in Leadership (WIN) Leadership Program is an initiative of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. It runs in different countries across the world including Kenya, Botswana, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Somalia.

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Story By Rachel Ombaka
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