Under Representation Of Women In Gambian Media

Annette Anta Camara, President-Women Journalists Association Gambia

By: Annette Anta Camara, President-Women Journalists Association Gambia

As the world tackles inequality and gender discrimination across all sectors, the media industry in the Gambia is lagging with inclusivity, be it in quotes for stories, interviews, or even editorial decisions.

The 2010 Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) reveals that women make up only 24% of the people heard, read about, or seen in the news. This trend of underrepresentation has carried over from traditional news media to online outlets. Moreover, despite the growing numbers of women in the profession, they still have relatively little decision-making power inside media organizations.

It is indeed true that in recent times, we have seen more recruitment of female journalists into the profession. However, most of these women are in the broadcast media by choice. Research cannot tell what exactly took most women to the broadcast media as each individual has their reason.  

The Dakar-based West Africa Democracy Radio head is seasoned Gambian journalist Agnes E. John – Thomasi.

 She has been in the broadcast media because she loved reading, using her voice, and being part of drama clubs in school and church. Another broadcaster saw this and encouraged her.

Despite this, as a junior announcer/reporter, she also ventured into writing for radio and newspapers.  

“I was writing for two Newspapers under a pen name at the time, so most people except my editors knew not. Under this premise, I would say that during that time, I realized that most women, including myself, felt comfortable working as broadcasters because of their various experiences. 

By design or the usual societal norms that found their way into our workspace, men are still the dominant position holders in most media institutions. This, I believe, is not because women are not qualified. It is more of a stereotype with no basis for incompetence. This has led to most male editors-in-chief assigning competent female journalists soft bits,” said Agnes.

According to research, only 27% of top management jobs in media organizations are held by women, only 21% of filmmakers are women, and only 23% of films feature a woman protagonist. 

Kaddy Jawo, an award-winning Gambian journalist, said: “Women are not well represented in the Gambian media because of the patriarchal system, and women have not been given a chance to lead, especially managerial positions in the newsroom. The reasons are numerous, but one of the main reasons is the issue of patriarchy in the newsroom, and women are side-lined because their male counterparts think they cannot perform the job as expected, but that is not the case.” 

Women in the media are doing incredibly well but are still not holding leading roles in the newsroom like editors, sub-editors, and managing directors.

Some women left the media due to frustration that they remained in the same position for many years, while their male colleagues with the same job are promoted as editors and sub-editors and to other managerial functions.

Jawo added: “I think I made a name for myself in journalism because I go for human interest stories that bring development and impact to our society. Journalism serves as a voice for the ordinary, marginalized, and the poor. If you find yourself doing or serving, you have found your purpose as a journalist. I stood out from the rest because I go for such stories, stories of interest and meaningful impact.”

Ya Awa Ceesay, the former senior journalist at Paradise Fm, said that in many countries, women are strongly represented in newsrooms. 

However, media are still very male-dominated when the top positions are examined. 

“Women are marginalized in the newsroom both in the context of their jobs and the opportunities they have to make their way in the profession. They are even marginalized in the unions that represent them. Fair gender portrayal is a professional and ethical aspiration, similar to respect for accuracy, fairness, and honesty. The other side of the coin says women need to be more present at higher levels of the news business, both at work and in the unions. In a world where hard news is still mainly reported and presented by men, journalists must stand up for gender equality. This equality is not just a women’s issue; everyone benefits from eliminating discrimination,” she stated.

Sainey MK Marenah, the Editor-in-chief and CEO of The Alkamba Times hailed women’s contribution to the media but acknowledged the continuous dominance of men over them in decision-making.

“Women have been crucial players in journalism. Their contributions continue to shape and transform the media and news production, but news boardrooms and top executive media jobs are constantly delegated to male counterparts. This is largely due to a rigidly patriarchal culture that propagates male dominance in the media and most sectors. Recently more women have been making breakthroughs as top media executives, yet the proportion of men higher up still dominates by significant margins,” he said. 

Research has shown how women exceptionally perform in boardrooms and top executive roles in the media, where women bosses are more likely to offer improved work conditions and safer settings for personnel than men

Essa Jallow is a male journalism trainer and senior manager online at the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS).

He believed in equal opportunity for men and women in the media and agreed despite women outnumbering men in the profession, they continue to be led by men.

“Yes, it is true that we have more women in journalism than men, and yet fewer women heading newsrooms. There are many reasons to explain that. There have been women leaders in the newsroom in the past, although not as many as men. But this was because women did not venture more into the profession. Now, we have many more women in the profession, and it is just time for them to take over the newsrooms. So far, most women in the profession are less experienced than their male counterparts. The opportunities are also minimal, considering the Gambian media’s financial strength. Potential women are also leaving the profession for greener professions,” Jallow observed.

The journalism trainer and GRTS staff said there used to be women playing leading roles in media houses. 

“Radio Gambia and then GRTS, for example, have had several women playing leading roles in Agie Lala Hydara, Amie Joof Cole, Sarah Grey-Johnson, Maria Carvalho, Jainaba Nyang, Neneh McDuol Gaye, Sabel Bajan Jagnee, etc.,” he recalled.

Muhammed S. Bah, Gambia Press Union President, is convinced that the GPU Collective Bargaining Document would provide a solution to the underrepresentation of women in the newsrooms.

“It is important for the media chiefs to sign the Collective Bargaining Document initiated by the Gambia Press Union on the welfare of journalists despite your gender, and also the sexual harassment policy, which come to empower women because a lot of women find it difficult to get promoted,” he said.

According to an International Federation of Journalists IFJ, this could be seen not only in the newsroom but even at the level of Unions and Associations; revealing that only five female heads out of the 48 IFJ affiliates in Sub – Saharan Africa, which goes to show how serious this issue is.

It is evident that in circumstances where women are given the opportunities that they deserve, they can perform beyond expectation as the likes of Angolan journalist Maria Louisa Carvalho who was very instrumental in covering the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), CNN war correspondent Christiana Amanpour, and the Aljazeera Palestinian journalist, Shareen Abu Ahli recently shot to death in the line of duty by the Israeli forces.

A few years ago, it was sporadic to hear of female journalists being killed in the line of duty; but recently, they are being specifically targeted in the line of duty.

Targeting them on duties has a substantial negative impact on female journalists and the effects they can make.

Kenyan journalist Betty Barasa was brutally killed in her home in front of her husband and children due to her work. 

Research showed that many female journalists are not progressing and quit the profession due to sexual harassment and intimidation in the newsrooms, most often perpetrated by their male counterparts. 

They are also subjected to harassment and bullying online more than their male counterparts, which remains the most significant threat.

These and other challenges affecting the work and progress of female journalists should be paid special attention to redress them for a comfortable life and a conducive work environment.


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