Women with a Mission
By Sherry Ricchiardi
Sherry Ricchiardi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an AJR senior contributing writer.
TO THE AFRICAN JOURNALISM community, their names stand out like beacons: Christine Anyanwu of Nigeria; Ruth Simon of Eritrea; Claudia Anthony of Sierra Leone. They are known for their bravery and cutting-edge stories—and for crashing gender barriers that plague their profession.
These three top a growing roster of high-profile women who are pushing to change the face of the media in Africa. That quickly became evident at the June conference in The Gambia.
Some in attendance called it a “renaissance,” a welcome reversal from the past, when the West African Journalists Association, known as WAJA, was mainly a male club. In 1998, only two delegates out of 20 were women. This year, the gender gap was bridged. Nearly half of the 40 official delegates were female.
For the first time, the conference focused on children’s rights and expanding the coverage of women. Suddenly, previously taboo topics, such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage, were being talked about openly in terms of news value and the media’s serving as agents of change.
“Having women and children as the focus of this conference was a huge step” in opening debate on important gender issues, says Wilma Randle, director of the African Women’s Media Center in Senegal. Africa, she notes, mirrors the trend in the United States toward more women practicing journalism. But most are in nonmanagement positions, lower in the food chain, says the former Chicago Tribune business reporter.
This year, Gifty Affenyi-Dadzie broke through the glass ceiling to become the first female president in the nearly 50-year history of the Ghana Journalists Association. During a keynote address, the veteran reporter complained of women being herded into a “culture of beat segregation” and suffering from “collective blame.”
Female reporters “are often restricted to writing on what have been erroneously regarded as women’s issues such as homekeeping, cooking, fashion and parenting,” she said.
“When a man does not perform well, he is singled out as an individual and is told, `Look, you are not pulling your weight,’ “ Affenyi-Dadzie told her audience, citing a University of Ghana study. “But if one woman fails to pull her weight, the general assumption is that all women are like that.”
Headlining the association’s awards banquet was an all-female panel moderated by Randle and Jerri Eddings, director of the Freedom Forum’s Africa Center. The discussion centered on the notion that a strong presence of women tends to change the definition of front-page news, taking it beyond politics, economics and war to education, health care and other social issues.
Amie Bojang-Sissoho, a senior producer for Gambian radio and television, offered her own career as proof. Much of her programming is aimed at information that affects women and children. It is not likely, she indicated, that a male manager would make the same decisions.