THIS week I made history when I was appointed editor of the leading business and investigative weekly, Zimbabwe Independent, by Alpha Media Group chairperson Trevor Ncube. In actual fact, this is not the first time I have broken records at the Independent. I became the first female to hold a senior position when I joined the newspaper in 2009 as political editor. I rose over the years to become senior political editor, until I became the first news editor, and it was no mean feat.
I was also the first female deputy editor in January 2016. It has taken me 27 years, nearly three decades, to get the top post(s), after having worked in both the public and private media. It has been a long and difficult journey to be recognised in a sector which has always considered the newsroom a “boys club”. Women advance to the top of middle management, but are unable to shatter this barrier.
Only a few women in Zimbabwe have smashed the glass ceiling. These include Happiness Zengeni, Victoria Ruzvidzo, Nqobile Nyathi, Nomsa Nkala, Edna Machirori, Millie Phiri and Susan Makore.
Despite the gender gap narrowing slightly in 2018, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2018, women still face an uphill battle in leadership positions. The higher the women climb, the more biases, challenges and stereotypes they face.
Working as a journalist in Zimbabwe is risky for all in the media, but it is twice as challenging for women. Besides traversing the minefield of repressive media laws in the country, female journalists also face gender discrimination and patriarchy, which extend into the newsroom. There is a misguided belief that it is not possible to elevate women to positions of authority because of issues including maternity leave, pregnancy and multiple roles as mothers and wives in an extended community situation that we live.
The slow rise of women in the media in Zimbabwe has had nothing to do with competence issues, but has been centred on structural rigidity.
Zimbabwe is still patriarchal and many believe there are certain jobs best suited for women. More needs to be done to tackle gender inequality in our newsrooms, where women remain grossly underrepresented, especially at senior managerial level. Women deserve more space at the top. This is a serious issue of concern and it also applies to other spheres of society in the country.
The media in Zimbabwe, like in many developing countries, is lagging behind in changing its attitudes towards women.
In South Africa, which is a young democracy, the issue is not so much about the numbers game, with almost equal numbers of women and men in the media.
Journalists in South Africa revealed in the biggest Glass Ceilings research conducted in that country in 2018 that there was an increasing salary gap between male and female journalists, subtle and overt sexism, being undermined and ignored for promotion, bullying (in the newsroom and on social media), exclusion from the “boys club” and decision-making and “paying the family penalty” i.e having children.
In Zimbabwe, we also face the same problems, as highlighted by the South African journalists. There is need to change the landscape because the media is predominantly male, especially in newspapers. There has now to be a deliberate decision to change the newsroom culture.
The world over, particularly in Africa, gender equity and gender mainstreaming are still being hotly debated. But what has to be remembered is that this development, which has serious implications to business, can no longer be ignored.
In addition to the gender inequality in the media, women make up a small fraction of sources quoted in news articles, in particular, in financial and business news.
The skewed structure in newsrooms is the reason behind the media failing to give women voices from the front page to the back page. Women’s voices are confined to special gender columns. We must upgrade, reorient and have more authoritative women’s voices in our reporting.
Until we address the structural rigidity and patriarchy in the media sector, deep-seated inequalities and lack of diversity will remain. Acknowledging the problem behind this trend is the first step to addressing it.