By Fatou Dahaba
Over the years, there has been a significant increase in the number of female media practitioners in The Gambia.
However, the number is not commensurate with women’s leadership roles in the media houses. In The Gambia and worldwide, women journalists play crucial roles in the development of the media and serve in various capacities as presenters, reporters, editors, technicians, managers, and company proprietors.
Despite their contributions to the growth of the media industry towards national development, there have been persistent imbalances in gender equality in the newsrooms.
In this special edition, The Alkamba Times (TAT) closely looks into women’s representation in the newsroom and how far they have tried to break barriers and acquire leadership roles.
Oumie M.S. Njie has been a state broadcaster for over a decade, serving as a producer, reporter, and presenter.
According to Oumie, equality and fair play need to be improved in newsrooms. She believes their male counterparts are mostly given a better share of the cake, especially when traveling opportunities arise.
She added that 90-95 percent of what is seen as risky coverage is given chiefly to male journalists, undermining the ability of their female colleagues.
“Despite all these challenges, there have been a lot of changes in the domain, particularly in broadcast journalism.
From the new laws to how we practice our work, cognisant that the world is now digital, television and radio broadcasting has moved from analog to digital. These have made the work more interesting and lively recently,” she told TAT.
Aisha Tamba of The Standard newspaper said the inequality starts in homes and communities and gets to the newsrooms. She argued that it affects the self-esteem of female journalists, which reflects on their work and productivity, adding that the patriarchal system in society is manifest in workplaces.
“This problem is demonstrated in our workplaces whether we acknowledge it or not. So I don’t think women are given fair treatment in the media. Even though the Gambia Press Union (GPU) has conducted a series of training courses and advocated for the promotion of equal treatment of all regardless of one’s gender, there is still a gap in the campaign,” Tamba said.
Nyima Sillah is one of the few female editors in the country, after years of journalism experience on various issues. She is a staunch advocate for the rights of female journalists to be respected, especially equality, including in her workplace.
Ms. Sillah served as a mentor to many young female reporters, helping in shaping their future in the field. Her patience, dedication, and diligence have enabled her to rise in the hierarchy and work as an editor today.
She usually works beyond closing time, staying longer in the office to edit as much as possible and learning from her editor-in-chief in gathering new ideas.
“It is a great feeling to be a female editor. Looking at the Gambian media, this position is dominated by men, and we, the women, can do it too. So, handling such a position is a great feeling,” she continued.
Ms. Sillah recognizes the lack of equality in the newsrooms. However, she urges female journalists to stand firm, work hard, fight for their rights, and never let anyone take advantage of them based on their gender; while constantly showcasing their talents and capabilities to the job well, if not better than their male colleagues.
Another senior female reporter we spoke to was Mariama Cham of Eyeafrica TV. The 27-year-old is an award-winning broadcast journalist who has been working with her TV outlet since 2020 as a news reporter, presenter, and program host with over seven years of experience.
Mariama believes that all reporters in her office should be treated equally, and all are entitled to the same benefits if an opportunity exists.
Ms. Cham told TAT that everyone at her workplace has equal opportunity regardless of gender; however, female editors are currently lacking.
A study on the working conditions of media workers in The Gambia conducted by the GPU in 2020 shows that 37% of media workers are female. While this shows that men largely dominate the media, the report also shows that significant gaps exist when conditions for both sexes are compared at all levels – in terms of pay, positions held, and even treatment.
The vice president of the GPU, Isatou Keita, said the underrepresentation of women in editorial positions in the media industry is a complex issue influenced by various factors such as gender bias, stereotypes, and cultural beliefs.
She underscored these factors as challenging women’s advancement in the newsroom.
Ms. Keira added that recognizing and addressing this issue requires a concerted effort by all stakeholders in the industry, including media organizations.
She believes promoting gender equity and diversity in the newsroom should be a priority for her union and its members.
Ms. Keita reaffirmed her commitment to promoting equal representation in the newsroom by creating opportunities for women to take on leadership roles through mentorship and training programs to build their skills and competencies.
“We also advocate for policies and practices that promote gender equity and diversity in the media industry. For example, we are encouraging media organizations to adopt gender-sensitive reporting practices and to create safe and inclusive work environments for all employees,” Keita told TAT.
Meanwhile, the GPU has helped produce several women journalists who have acquired diplomas and advanced diplomas in journalism from the Media Academy for Journalism and Communication (MAJaC), run by the union.
Many of those have earned degrees in journalism from the School of Journalism and Digital Media of the University of The Gambia.
Which shows no lack of knowledge and skills among Gambian women journalists. However, editorial boards and decision-making positions in media houses continue to be monopolized by men.