Why Newsroom Gender Gap Must Be Bridged –Experts

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Selecting 20 female journalists from a pool of 207 applications from nine countries must have been a tough task for the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ).

And for the lucky ones that cut across the print, broadcast and online media, getting to participate in the “2019 Report Women! Female Reporters’ Leadership Programme (FRLP) was an experience in self-development.

The programme, an initiative of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) and supported by Free Press Unlimited, was the third in its series. Its aim was to equip the participants with the skills, finesse, support and tools to take bold steps that will position them for the highest leadership positions in their media houses.

The four-day programme that held in Lagos was a moment of high expectation for the participants who were selected from Nigeria, Malawi, Uganda, Ghana, South Africa, Togo, Botswana, Tanzania, and India.

The event is part of a six-month leadership programme, within which participants are expected to undergo a three-month mentorship as well as a share-fair, story, and leadership project. On completion of the programme, those that successfully executed their assignments will be awarded a ‘Fellow of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism.’

The female journalists were taken through intense training modules such as; fundamentals of gender studies, gender mainstreaming, security, gender-related policies and laws, managing conflicts, dealing with stereotypes, value-driven leadership, competence and confidence building as well as personal productivity. They were also drilled on the ethics of journalism, public speaking techniques and how to be technological and social media savvy.

Resource persons on hand for the training were veteran broadcaster and communication coach, Bimbo Oloyede, Editor-in-Chief, Daily Trust Newspaper, Mannir Dan Ali; seasoned journalists, Rotimi Sankore and Lekan Otufodunrin; Strategy and Gender Specialist, Nneka Okekearu; management and development consultant on gender right and social justice advocate, Comfort Ogunye; as well as the Managing Editor of YNaija, Isime Esene.

In her welcome address, coordinator of the centre, Motunrayo Alaka, said the project was inaugurated in 2017 with 14 fellows. The fellows were later increased to 19 in 2018.

She highlighted the challenges militating against women in the media and frowned at gender disparity and salient stereotype associated with assigning leadership roles to female journalists.

Alaka said the programme was the centre’s response to bridging the gender gap in the newsroom, which presently favours male journalists. She explained that findings from a 2017 survey conducted by the centre on the leadership status of women in Nigeria’s newsroom showed a discouraging gender imbalance that existed in the ratio of female to male leadership in Nigeria’s newsrooms.

“Our survey on the leadership status of female reporters in Nigeria’s newsroom conducted in 2017 reveals a ratio of 10:2 representations in board and management levels in favour of men. There have been little deliberate efforts to ensure female reporters get to the highest echelons of leadership in the newsrooms.

“We found that leadership at the desk level was fairly balanced as there are women that head desks like health, crime, women issues, bureau chiefs and more. The challenge, however, seems to be moving from the desk level to the next hierarchy. These findings were deduced from a 2017 survey that collated data from 180 respondents within 85 media organisations in 28 Nigerian states. Another survey was conducted between September 2018 and January 2019 on gender policy and practice in Nigerian newsrooms across 15 media houses,” she said.

Alaka described the media as a moral compass in any given society; one that should be seen to champion the cause of inclusivity, which must start from the newsroom.

The WSCIJ coordinator emphasized the need for journalists to deliberately make efforts of reporting issues, which will help bridge the gender gap in societies. She also urged them to be intentional in reporting female sources if they want changes in their societies.

“We are saying let’s get intentional along the changes we want in societies, let’s say we want female persons on our boards, then you will look for the qualified female person because they are there,” she said.

She encouraged women and media managers to be inclusive, giving women more challenging roles like hard stories instead of assigning them to soft stories, in other to help them attain their full potential.

“We want to have equal capacity to aspire, we want to aspire as females, we want to be able to have our ambitions as female persons but this is not a takeover from men movement,” she said.

Speaking during the introductory class that focused on the “Fundamentals of Gender Studies and Navigating Local Realities”, Ropo Sekoni a columnist and the Chair, Board of Trustees of WSCIJ lamented that women now defend knowledge systems that were designed to make them inferior. He called for a common front to be formed to achieve a common agenda, even as he tasked the participants to be agents of change and adopt strategies that will ensure that women become relevant in media mainstream affairs.

“All of these stereotypes were not God-given; they were constructed. They are wrong knowledge created about women that have been propagated over the years. But it is not our fault that we should grow up, basically assuming that these things are natural. If we want to change the world, gender studies should be for both men and women,” he said.

Bimbo Oloyede, on her part, stressed the need for women to be soldiers of change. She also encouraged the participants to be different in their newsrooms by ensuring that their reports have depth, are topical, well researched and investigated, data-based, impactful and gender-based.

At the end of the training, participants expressed to the resource persons, the WSCIJ and Free Press Unlimited. Participants also shared positive feedbacks, thoughts on impact of the training and what they hoped to achieve with the acquired knowledge.