Every year International Women’s Day aims to highlight and help address the constraints that women face.
This year’s theme is Embracing Equity and seeks to get people thinking about how they can boost opportunities and provide resources for women in all facets of life. The International Women’s Day website explains that “people start from different places, so true inclusion and belonging require equitable action”.
Equality means giving everybody a fair chance at something.
Equity means bringing everybody on the same level so we can start and progress together.
In the media industry, it’s no riddle that women are still starting on the back foot.
In South Africa, the percentage of women in editorial positions has fallen drastically in the past few years. This is according to the Reuters Institute’s 2023 Women and Leadership in the News Media factsheet. Reuters Institute started collecting data for the factsheet in 2020, and the evidence for the changes in South Africa’s media industry is worrying.
In 2020, 47% of editors were women. This increased significantly to 60% in 2021 but dropped again to 40% in 2022 and this year’s percentage fell to its lowest since the start of the survey to 20%.
According to the report, the findings from South Africa show that discrimination hampers women’s entry into and progression in the news media.
Furthermore, evidence from the 12 markets sampled, which include South Africa, the UK and US, Mexico, Kenya, Germany, Japan and others show that overall, the majority of top editors are men, including in countries where women outnumber men among working journalists.
Real voices, real stories
The statistics tell one side of the story, but the experiences of women journalists on the ground sometimes paint a different picture.
frayintermedia spoke to three women in the industry working in radio, television broadcasting and academia.
Here’s what they had to say about the challenges they face(d) in the media industry.
Kaldora Naidoo is a radio producer at Moneyweb. She has been at the business news publication for approximately six years. She started as an intern and filled many roles including production assistant and junior producer.
When asked about some of her initial challenges as a woman in the industry, Naidoo told frayintermedia that she joined the industry when she was very young without any experience or qualifications, consequently, she was not taken very seriously. She was also at times, subjected to workplace harassment and bullying (sometimes by women more than men).
Additionally, she said the industry needs to compensate women fairly, and there should be salary transparency.
South Africa still has a major gender pay gap, and the efforts to close that gap is taking time. According to the United Association of South Africa, 2022 statistics show that SA’s gender pay gap median is still between 23% and 25%.
Naidoo said that navigating some workplace dynamics, such as micromanaging – especially at a junior level – can be difficult. She suggests that in those cases, you need to trust yourself and believe that you can do your job, but also don’t be afraid to ask for help.
She said that above all, women need to do a better job of supporting each other.
“A lot of the issues I had in the workplace stemmed from other women…we are so conditioned to view each other as competition that we don’t stop to realise how we are tearing each other down,” she said.
The dynamics outside the workplace are also difficult to navigate.
eNCA journalist, Silindelo Masikane has been in the industry for 12 years, mostly in broadcast journalism.
Masikane has always spoken out about how women journalists are harassed both online and offline. In a recent incident, Masikane and cameraman Thamsanqa Chamane were covering the launch of Operation Manje Namhlanje – a crime prevention project by the City of Joburg’s Public Safety department at Constitution Hill.
They had planned to speak with MMC Mgcini Tshwaku, but EFF members allegedly created a barrier around him, preventing Masikane from speaking to him and doing her job. She was subsequently pushed and shoved by the EFF members. According to a statement by the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) “Silindelo was pushed so hard that she fell to the ground. The EFF members, as well as the JMPD officials walked over her. No one defended or assisted her.”
I was pushed and shoved by EFF members in JHB CBD when I tried to interview the Public Safety MMC in his capacity as a government official.— Silindelo Masikane (@Sli_Masikane) February 25, 2023
The media was invited to cover operation #ManjeNamhlanje by his office. https://t.co/6x1m7mgX0l
SANEF condemned the actions of the MMC and EFF members saying: “In a country plagued by gender-based violence, it is criminal for the JMPD officials, in particular, to turn a blind eye on such acts of abuse.”
Masikane spoke to frayintermedia previously about her experiences with online abuse.
In 2021, she was covering the student protests in Braamfontein. She said students affiliated with the EFF were under the impression the protests belonged to them and were making it difficult for eNCA journalists to report. She and a colleague were then harassed by students affiliated with the EFF. Masikane then tweeted that she has the right to do her job and report on the student protests, adding that she would not be intimidated, she told frayintermedia.
Following the incident, “high-ranking officials of the EFF namely condoned the harassment and even defended it on Twitter. This resulted in thousands of social media posts where I was bullied and threatened with violence,” she said.
Online abuse often includes attacks on a journalist’s credibility as well as smear campaigns, identity-based attacks, and even threats of violence against the individual and their family and friends. Many forms of online harassment and abuse have morphed into threats of sexual assault and now have taken on a gender-based pattern which is having an even more damaging effect on women journalists.
Speaking of online harassment of women journalists trying to have a voice, Masikane said “women again have to fight for their place and their voices in society. It means women have to continue to stand up against these types of forces and ensure that these types of narratives don’t come to fruition”.
Reflecting on her 12-year-long career as a journalist, Masikane told frayintermedia that her constant battle now is to be valued as much as her male counterparts, as well as to see more women in decision-making roles, as both owners and creators of their content.
The Reuters Institute’s 2023 fact sheet affirms that there is a need for more women to be in top roles when compared with the number of women journalists in the industry. Overall, the statistics show that there is a very weak positive correlation between the percentage of women working as journalists and the percentage of women among top editors, and there continues to be a lower proportion of women in top editorial roles than women in the profession as a whole.
Does the picture look different in academia?
Pheladi Sethusa is a journalism lecturer at the Wits Centre for Journalism. She has worn several hats in the seven years she has been in the industry, ranging from a broadcast producer and journalist, print journalist, videographer and photographer, and podcast and documentary editor among other things.
Sethusa said one of the initial challenges she faced when entering the industry was the lack of mentorship and support. As a mentor and teacher herself, she says it’s important that newsrooms start carving out the time to listen to the needs of young journalists entering the industry – to support and guide them.
Additionally, she said that women need to be able to strike a fair work-life balance.
“I think women in particular don’t often get to have that [work-life balance]. They go straight from a super demanding job to another super demanding job at home by either being a mom or a partner to someone – they cooking all the meals – they doing all the other kinds of domestic labour expected of a woman without much help.”
She said if resources allow, newsrooms should find ways to assist in lessening the pressure on women in the workplace.
As a journalist and an early academic, Sethusa said she’s encouraged by the fact that people who are coming into the industry are “still overwhelmingly women”.
“I think for anyone who has worked in the newsroom, you’ll realise very quickly that when you are there, the foundation is the women in that newsroom. And there’s a lot of us, and I think we should find strength in that sisterhood and be more intentional about how much we support each other and make sure that we are supported.”
Women empowering each other and leading the way together, that’s equity.