Kenya: Female Journalists Bear Greatest Brunt of SGBV

11 December 2020

Despite the pervasiveness of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in the media houses, much is yet to be done to create a conducive working environment for female journalists.

From sexual harassment, online trolling and institutionalised violence, female journalists are bearing the greatest brunt of the vice, forcing some to prematurely exit the industry notwithstanding their prowess.

Worst is that they are condemned into silence because the perpetrators are the senior managers or editors and thus even with the exit, justice is not served.

"The silence is what makes sexual harassment, most common in the newsroom to continue," says Samuel Muraya, project manager at Journalists for Human Right and a member of Kenya Editor's Guild (KEG).

Sexual harassment

"Most of the victims are quiet for fear of being victimised. But breaking the silence is what will put sexual harassment to an end. We want to see perpetrators brought to book," he emphasises.

Punishing the perpetrators will have to start with having stringent human resource policies as existing gender policies in the newsrooms are weak and even implementing them is problematic, he notes.

A 2020 Reporting Newsroom Sexual Harassment in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa report in which Association of Women in Media (Amwik) participated, found that on average, women experienced sexual harassment four times more than men.

Of the 202 news professionals interviewed, 20 per cent reported to have experienced sexual harassment at least five times at work. This was similar case for the 8.1 per cent of men surveyed.

Harassed journalists

Mr Muraya says male interns do get harassed by senior female journalists, especially the editors.

The report, however, spells a resounding worry. That 90 per cent of the harassed journalists chose not to report to their employer.

Amwik Executive Director Ms Marceline Nyambala, puts greater responsibility on the media houses on tackling SGBV in the newsrooms, which she says is largely anchored on unequal gender power relations.

She says institutionalised violence, which outplays on underpaying of female journalists on the basis of being the lesser gender is denial of their human rights.

"Institutionalised violence equals economic violence. And this is happening because of practice of patriarchy in the newsrooms. There has to be a change in how women's work and role in the newsroom is valued," she says.

Owing to SGBV, some women have been forced to give up their ambitions of building careers in media despite their competitive skills, she says.

Free spaces for women

Although her organisation continues to engage the media houses on addressing the gender issues, she says a lot remains to be done before the newsrooms become free spaces for women.

Female journalists are neither safe in the digital spaces.

Online violence is an emerging form of SGBV against female journalists, Ms Nyambala says.

Some 75 per cent of female journalists in Kenya have been harassed online, a 2016 study on digital security of female journalists in Kenya by Amwik and Article 19 Eastern Africa found. And this harassment has forced some to exit the digital platforms of sharing information altogether.

But this push from online is an infringement of the female journalists' freedom of speech, access to information and expression, Ms Nyambala insists.

This again, she says, has a negative effect on their work since the female journalists need to be informed to perform their duties well.

"All in all, there is something the media house, individual journalist, parent and government can do to address the online violence against the female journalists," she said.

Gender policies

Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ), secretary general, Mr Erick Oduor says they have often engaged media houses on ending SGBV in the newsrooms but there exists a major barrier; those to whom they are to report the abuses for redress, are the perpetrators.

"We have talked with most of the media companies to come up with gender policies to stop sexual harassment on young journalists in the newsrooms who suffer the most," he says.

"Most companies say they have zero tolerance to GBV or sexual harassment in newsrooms but you know these cases are not reported for action, for fear or intimidation... you see the people doing it are in the senior management," he says.

A 2020 The Gender Agenda: Assessing the Gender Issues in the Kenyan Media study by Media Council of Kenya (MCK) puts Mr Odour's statement into perspective.

Of the 71 journalists interviewed in the study, 72 per cent indicated that most media organisations don't have gender or diversity policy - thus even discussion on addressing the vice is impossible.

"It is for the for media houses to decide to come up with an innovative way of addressing sexual harassment in the newsrooms," he concludes.

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