26 April 2017

South Africa: Women Fighting Their Way to the Top in Community Radio

opinion

Have female station managers broken through the glass ceiling?

"Teach her that the idea of 'gender roles' is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should or should not do something because she is a girl. 'Because you are a girl' is never reason for anything. Ever." Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Since the advent of democracy in 1994, broadcasting in South Africa has completely transformed with the introduction of community broadcasting as a third tier of broadcasting. This gave birth to over 200 licensed community radio stations and at least 9 licensed community television stations.

However, 22 years after the first licensed community radio station started broadcasting the ownership and management of community broadcasters remain largely a male dominated space and transformation has been a slow process.

Wits University Journalism Department released the "State of the Newsroom South Africa 2014" report that indicated both gender representation in the boardroom and newsroom are still far from reaching parity with 28% of editors being female and only 14% being black females. The report further states that only 4% sat on the board of big media companies for the 2012 - 2013 period.

There are a few examples that shine the way to a brighter future. In the Western Cape, these include strong women such as Rachel Watson, Station Manager of Radio Atlantis, Rushni Allie, Station Manager of Radio 786, Dayne Nel, Station Manager of Whalecoast FM and Karen Thorne, Station Manager of Cape Town TV. Although this is a small group of leading women in the industry, their voices are heard across the sector and through this they strengthen community media.

With drive, passion and commitment they fought their way to the top of station management and transformed their stations to be creative spaces producing quality programmes that educate and inform their listeners. They speak truth to power and their programmes fearlessly tackle a variety of issues including human rights, gender equality and democracy.

However, their positions do not protect them against male chauvinism in their sectors or station. Karen Thorne, explains that she attended meetings of Association of Community Television - South Africa (ACT-SA) where she found herself as the only female in a room of 20 males and where she experienced offensive behaviours, continual sexist jokes and chauvinistic comments.

Broadcasting includes dealing with technical issues and various technologies, and in this arena male chauvinism is rife. Often instructions from a female station manager is ignored, but immediately carried out if echoed by males.

At Whalecoast FM, Dayne Nel says that she experiences this kind of discrimination daily. "It is funny though that when people phone to speak to the Station Manager and I answer the phone, they sometimes keep quiet, or ask again for the SM, and I have to explain to them that that is who they are talking to. They usually expect a male voice".

Female managers are also more sympathetic, providing a family-sensitive environment to work in. Rushni Allie from Radio 786 explains that they "have regulated flexi hours" that accommodate the needs of family and children. This is introduced as a female manager, and might not have been introduced by a male counterpart. The same happens at Bush Radio, where men are encouraged to play an active role in their family, and get additional time off for family responsibility to spend with a sick child at home or the hospital.

Community media still has a long way to go in transforming the sector to a gender equal space, and where more women rise to the top positions in the stations, including station managers and chairpersons of the Board. However, change is happening and some stations have taken an important step by setting a strong example.

The struggle for gender equality in society (including media) continues!

Brenda Leonard is the managing director of Bush Radio, Africa's oldest community radio station project based in Cape Town, South Africa. The idea of Bush Radio started in the 1980s when community activists and alternative media producers came together to explore ways in which grassroots media could be used for social upliftment and as an alternative voice to the media available under apartheid.

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