Media Focus on Africa, on Friday 29, July 2017 held an editors’ roundtable meeting at the Intercontinental Hotel with the goal of pushing forward the women in political leadership agenda. The roundtable targeted media editors because the goal of the meeting was cracking the obstacles that could be inherent in how the media delivers information about women in political positions and to what extent that affects the message delivery and public perceptions. The session, one of the four-part series about women in political leadership, also looked at how the media can help breakdown the socio-cultural factors that hold women back from taking up political leadership or that drive negative narratives about women in politics.
The panel discussion was graced by Andy Kagwa of Standard Media Group, Prof. Wilfred Subbo, University of Nairobi, Institute of Anthropology, Gender and African Studies, Nairobi senatorial candidate, Suzanne Lengewa and it was moderated by Prof. Kimani Njogu, C.E.O Twaweza Communications.
- Culturally-shaped mindsets
This is one of the recurring subjects that were brought up during the discussion. Culture which is absorbed by the way that we are socialised plays a big role in the way we see things as a people and the perceptions that we form about women in political leadership or those aspiring to leadership. It was found that in most Kenyan communities, women are seen as managers and not necessarily leaders and because of this socialization, many women have trouble seeing themselves as leaders. And so they prefer more private roles. This gendered division of labour then goes on to inform perspectives of how the public then perceives women who take up leadership roles. The fact that journalists are a part of this socialisation means that they are not immune to these mindsets. Journalists exist in this society that expects them to churn out certain types of stories for them to hold an audience and cater to their needs.
The solution is that journalists are supposed to respect professionalism which should come through their training. Journalists and the media in general also have a role beyond simply reporting what has been said and they should go further to ask questions, probe and add value to the information that they get because among many other roles, journalists are also the shapers of public opinions.
- Women may not be available at show timings and they may also package themselves in the wrong way
There is a concern among some of the journalists that women can usually be difficult to bring on board for interviews because of timing and general unavailability at certain times when live political shows are hosted.
A challenge also arose from the way some women political aspirants package themselves. While there is a concern that some journalists’ reports about women in politics have bad anglings such as concentrating on how young or how beautiful an aspiring political leader is, the session also realised that some women political leaders could have a role to play in the image that is pushed out there about them such as the aliases that they give themselves or the slogans that they use in rallies.
But here, once again, the buck stops with journalists. Journalists and media houses in general have a big role to play in the opinions and ideas that go out there so journalists have a role beyond merely reporting what they see.
3.) Raising the problem of few women in political leadership to the level of consciousness
In Kenya, even the two-thirds gender rule has not raised the number of women holding public office. But is there consciousness in the citizenry that this, low representation of women, is a problem?
As a society, we need to first of all accept that not having women in political positions is a problem. Women make up half of the population and that means that we cannot ignore their opinions or not have them take an equal space in the decision making table. And this does not at all mean that women be given political positions on a silver platter. What the session advocated for was creating a fairer playing ground where the other factors such as cultural prejudices against women are removed.
If as a society we do not accept that not having women in political leadership positions is a problem, then we risk missing out on the wisdom that would be brought forth by women, had there been proper representation.
4) The awareness about the inevitability of women taking up important leadership positions
The fact is that the society is no longer as it was 30 or more years ago. More and more women are pioneering initiatives that are changing the world and even a higher number of women are taking up leadership positions in multinationals. The media can play a role through much more deliberate highlighting of areas where women are taking up leadership and doing so in a way that draws inspiration.
By the end of the session, it was clear that a lot still needs to be done by the media to create awareness on the possibilities that women political leadership portends as well as working to shift attitudes towards women in leadership. This ensure that the idea of a woman political leader is not perceived as strange or unique but something that is normal.
Featured image via www.afromum.com.