Gender Links (Johannesburg)

Southern Africa: Female Sports Journalists Jockey for Positions

The television coverage of the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament currently underway in South Africa is clear evidence of the lack of female sports journalists in Southern Africa. This is despite the fact that many women follow sport including the AFCON with great interest.

Countless female soccer fans are rallying behind their national teams at the different stadiums. Some comments from the female sports fans will leave you in awe as they demonstrate in-depth understanding of the game. The question remains, why are there few female sports journalists?

Despite the fact that women make up more than half of humanity, they are often voiceless as men dominate and commandeer the world's key sectors and professions. This is as true in the world of sports or politics as it is in the media.

The 2009 Glass Ceilings Study on Women and Men in Southern Africa Media found that the media industry in the region is still male-dominated, with men constituting 59% of the employees compared to 41% men. In Malawi, 77% of employees in media houses are men. Of the 23% women employed by the Malawi media, most are in part-time and non-permanent positions.

Further, the gender division of labour in media houses is still pronounced. The majority of women reporters cover "soft" news beats while men dominate as reporters of politics, business and sport.

However, it does not mean women are less qualified than men. Cultural stereotypes often mean women are unfairly blocked from certain professions and positions.

More than 90% of sports journalists in Malawi are men. According to Jean Chalungama, a female sports journalist at Blantyre's FM101 Power, "women have a mindset that sport is for men only. It has been so for a long time and it is perceived as a difficult task for a woman to be busy following sporting activities Chalungama, who has been a sports reporter since 2004 explained that there is a prevalent stereotype that sport, is the exclusive domain of men.

However, Chalungama believes it is easier for women to become sports reporters if they are immersed in sports from a young age. "I don't think it is possible for one to start reporting on sports in the work environment.

Schools should encourage young women to engage in various sports and develop passion for sports reporting. Anything less than that is quite unattainable."

Phillip Business, a sports producer and presenter at the Malawi Broadcasting Corporation, agrees. He notes that because many women are not exposed to sports it makes it difficult for them to venture into sports reporting when they join media houses.

"Passion is something you develop over time and sports is no exception," says Business. "Back in the days, I used to see boys and men go to watch football matches. Girls and women stayed behind."

Nevertheless, Business thinks women can - and should - become sports reporters.

"We need to make sure that sport is strengthened starting from primary to secondary schools up to tertiary education. Just look at how other countries like South Africa and Nigeria perform in women's football? Women in those countries follow the game with interest. With such a spirit, we can empower our women and change the perception that only men who can do it."

However, MIJ FM sports journalist Deitrich Frederich has a different view. He thinks women's underrepresentation in sports reporting is due to the sporting environment, which he says is sometimes awkward for women.

"In some instances, you will see that women do not feel comfortable around male presence. Sports involves mixing, which to some women is 'unwomanly'," says Frederich.

Frederich blames this hesitation on culture and tradition.

"Parents are the first teachers. They tell the child how to live and behave in society. Sometimes parents separate women from men, girls from boys by telling their children what they can and cannot do. For the girl child, she has to be home and cook whereas the boy can go and play," notes Frederich.

He thinks Southern Africa needs to rid itself of harmful stereotypes that perpetuate inequality.

A female student at the Malawi Polytechnic said some female students are scared to venture into sports reporting because of the violent scenes common at sporting matches. She said women fear harassment from men and therefore opt to go into other professions.

Against these odds, more women are making inroads into the world of sports reporting thanks to the example of pioneers like Carol Manana Tshabalala of South Africa and Chalungama of Malawi.

Carol Manana Tshabalala, a prominent South African female sports journalist who now works for Supersport is often described as "the soccer queen on top of her game." She is an award winning sport television presenter and started her broadcasting career in 2000 for a youth sports programme called "Sportsbuzz". Since then, she has grown in leaps and bounds in sports reporting.

Tshabalala has through several interviews said that it is "totally cool" being a female in a male dominated industry. She pointed out that it "was tough in the beginning when I was trying to break in and be taken seriously but there are the perks of getting the best interviews because you stand out and people appreciating what you do even more because I am one of the few ladies in this field."

In addition, Tshabala says that she is extremely passionate about sport.

A recent survey conducted at the Malawi Polytechnic found that Chalungama has inspired many female journalism students to aspire to become sports journalists. The ball is definitely rolling in the right direction.

Women must view the AFCON as an opportunity for them to venture into sports reporting. The hype around the regional tournament must excite women to take sports reporting as a career. The media should build the capacity of female journalists to report sports and assign them to cover this "hard" beat. Who knows, we may have a critical mass of female sports journalists and commentators at the next AFCON!

Charles Andrew Kabena and Japheth Thole are students at Malawi Institute of Journalism. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.

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