Namibia: Gender Equity Vital for Press Freedom - Experts

STRIVING towards gender equity and gender parity within the media is in the best interest of the efforts towards press freedom, a panel of local media practitioners say.

Various media stakeholders shared this sentiment during the 'Women in Media' panel discussion hosted by the British High Commission, in partnership with the Namibia Media Trust, in Windhoek on Wednesday.

The panel, which included media ombudsman John Nakuta, media practitioner Rukee Kaakunga, Die Republikein's news editor Ronelle Rademeyer, British high commissioner to Namibia Kate Airey, and Namibia Media Trust strategic coordinator Zoe Titus, discussed press freedom, and the pros and cons of being a woman in the media industry.

The discussion was framed in the context of the first-ever Media Freedoms Global Conference held in London, UK, last week, Airey stated. She said 2018 was one of the deadliest years for journalism, with at least 99 journalists' deaths recorded, which inspired the framework for the conference.

"It's a dangerous game, but we're also very clear that journalism is an absolute cornerstone of democracy," she noted.

Airey highlighted that the media faces challenges in every context, from ownership, to sustainability, safety and security, and gender. It is thus important for countries to ensure that women are able to participate freely in all sectors of society.

"When we talk about women and women's rights in a country that champions women's rights globally, I think it's a really interesting one because representation is only part of the story," she said.

Namibia Media Trust's executive chairperson Gwen Lister, who ardently speaks about and advocates press freedom, observed that governmental and institutional bodies should take on the primary role of fostering an enabling environment in which free and independent media can exist.

She said women's rights are weaved into that.

"Of course, we can't have a free and independent media to really be that cornerstone of democracy if women's rights aren't protected. Unless women are guaranteed safety, and to do their jobs without harassment, we haven't really achieved where we want to go," she stressed.

Citing a 2012 report on the status of women in news media, which said women are generally under-represented, media ombudsman Nakuta shared that globally, there is a glass ceiling for women in the industry. However, in Namibia, women have relatively good access to all levels of the profession.

Nonetheless, the study noted that in Namibian newsrooms surveyed at the time, women were underrepresented numerically.

"Inasmuch as there is gender equity, there is no parity," he said, citing the report. Gender parity is a statistical measure that provides a female-to-male ratio.

Die Republikein's news editor Rademeyer said it is important for news organisations to have all identities represented in the newsroom.

"Media owners should do more to get the demographics right in order to have a newsroom representative of all the voices in our society, not just the female voices, and to have journalists on your team who are sensitive to the different minority voices," she said. Kaakunga, who has worked in the media and wears many hats in the industry, said although she has had a great experience as a young woman in media, she has faced challenges, such as the glass ceiling.

"You get the sense that you try and work your way up, and there isn't any chance for you to join leadership," she stated.

She has also noticed young women having to work twice as hard to prove themselves, and sees it as one of the barriers to women joining the industry.

Kaakunga stressed the need to include young voices and perspectives as a vital part of exploring sustainability models in media.

"A lot of these challenges are what I think contribute to the mass exodus of young journalists," she added, also speaking about the sexism experienced by women in the industry, which is one of the biggest challenges they face.

"With leadership being mainly male, you don't find support when you go to them about these things," she said. The Namibia Media Trust's Titus said "the challenges for women in the media are becoming less about the numbers, and more about the underlying sexism in the media". She also punctuated the need to assess progress in achieving gender equality in the media on various levels, specifically mentioning decision-making, transforming the work culture from a gender perspective, and measuring the gender gap.

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