Sexism, harassment and unequal working opportunities are just some of the issues that women in the male-dominated photojournalism industry face.
Working in Sudan, Ola Alshiekh has experience of what this means for women.
“I sometimes face mockery and harassment since our community is not used to seeing female photographers among the streets, but it did not stop me from doing what I love,” she said.
Alshiekh’s experiences mirror a global issue where the photojournalism industry sidelines women. According to The State of News Photography ,report, published in 2018, 69% of women photographers said they faced discrimination in the workplace. The report also highlights that issues of sexism (54%), industry stereotypes (53%) and lack of opportunities for women (49%) also hinder women’s progress in the industry.
A Reuters Institute ,report reveals that women photojournalists are paid less than their male counterparts and they are more likely to work part-time, with lesser chances of being employed by large news organisations.
However, while the media industry may be set up to sideline women from the photojournalism field, much of the discrimination comes from society as a whole.
Through her lens, Zimbabwean documentary photographer Cynthia Matonhodze focuses on social issues in Zimbabwe and has had her capabilities questioned by her subjects.
“I have been challenged by a person I was photographing as to why me, a woman, is doing a man’s job […] I have often been referred to as a cameraman because that is what a person with a camera is – but is it?” Matonhodze asked.
Representation and visibility
Women’s visibility in the photojournalism industry mirrors broader society’s perception of women, Matonhodze explained. She added that women are confined to social constructs across industries where they are expected to only occupy spaces that fit a “woman’s place”.
“The more these constructs are practised without allowing room for the development of alternative representations of what a woman can do or be, the more discrimination and often times harassment flourish. Representation truly matters,” she said.
However, as women have limited influence in the photojournalism industry, the way women themselves are photographed is also an issue. An ,article by Nieman Reports has data that reinforces just who is responsible for creating a visual experience in newsgathering.
“When only 15 to 20 percent of working news photographers are female, that means more often than not, women will find themselves excluded from the mainstream narrative,” said the report.
Everyone has a unique perspective and way of framing issues through their lens.
Cynthia Matonhodze said this could lead to what she called the “danger” of a single perspective.
“We all have something to contribute,” she said.
A gendered perspective
Despite the odds against women, their perspective and position in society mean they have many stories to tell.
“There are certain issues and projects in some communities due to cultural and religious differences; only women are allowed to discuss them or be involved. Women are very talented in telling stories and are great in supporting other women,” said Alsheikh.
More important still is the impact that this lack of inclusivity has on the wide public. Mantonhodze explains that the value of a gendered perspective matters because diverse views can alter societal mores and inspire empowerment.
Ultimately, representation matters.
“There should be more women behind the camera because representation matters, diverse perspectives matter in the information we consume that oftentimes shapes our ideologies and personal philosophies,” said Mantonhodze.