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Walking the talk on gender balance in news coverage is still tall order

News is male. Grows beard. Wears hat and tie. Booze froth sticking on moustache. Crashes car on Nairobi Expressway. Yells swearwords. Bangs table. Smashes phone on wall. Might slap boss. Iko nini?

That’s the news most journalists seem to know. The Star reporter Gordon Osen, for example.

On July 5, a forum was held in Nairobi under the theme, “Taking Action! Closing the Gender Gap in Kenya”. The event brought together participants from UN Women, Kenya Editors Guild, Media Council of Kenya and the National Gender Equality Commission.

Lion Place’s Osen covered the function. His report appeared in The Star under the headline, “Editors’ guild calls for gender mainstreaming in coverage of news (Star, July 6, p.10 and online).

“Kenya Editors Guild has asked media houses to mainstream gender in their reporting and have more women occupy senior managerial positions,” Osen’s report started.

“President Churchill Otieno said on Tuesday that most media houses in the country were yet to integrate gender mainstreaming into their reportage and many stories were still being told with a patriarchal lens”.

Osen’s 16-para story about news stories told “with a patriarchal lens” had a single voice – that of KEG president Churchill Otieno. Only.

News is male.

What was the event, again? A gender forum. In the print version of the story, Lion Place carried a photo of KEG president Churchill Otieno.

All the women who attended and spoke at the event were muted. Apparently, they did not say anything worth reporting.

NGEC chairperson Dr Joyce Mutinda spoke. Commission CEO Betty Sungura Nyabuto spoke. Association of Media Women in Kenya CEO Judie Kaberia spoke. Veteran political journalist and author Njeri Rugene was there.

Women attended and spoke at this gender forum. But, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Press, none of them said anything worth reporting in a story about mainstreaming gender in news coverage.

Why? Because news is male.

You can take a donkey to the river but you can’t make it drink the water. Many journalists – actually all – have undergone some form of training on gender balanced reporting. No serious journalist can claim ignorance of this important subject. If you have not received any formal training on gender, the issue is on your face everywhere you turn.

It is in the Constitution and the laws of the land. Gender is covered in the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in Kenya and in the editorial policies and other human resource manuals of all major newsrooms.

Almost daily, a gender discussion is taking place somewhere. In your own reading of books, newspapers, online content and even the Bible – the favourite text for Kenyans – the gender question is always present.

But you still have Gordon Osen writing a full newspaper story about gender mainstreaming in the news without the voice of one woman.

Sasa mnataka tu-do aje?

Activities by or about women get little or no media attention compared to those by men. We do not need to commission a survey to establish this. Media houses are invited to provide coverage and news crews may be dispatched to the venues, but in the end the events get only a passing mention at best.

Or, as in The Star case, all the women are ignored while the male voices are amplified.

The Women In Leadership Breakfast convened by Fida-Kenya in Diani on July 8 did not fare any better. The subject was, “Women In Elective Politics: Opportunities In 2022 And Beyond”.

Keynote speakers included retired Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza, Fida Kenya chairperson Nancy Ikinu, Uasin Gishu Woman Rep Gladys Shollei and Kwale Deputy Governor Fatuma Achani.

Commendably, a KBC English Service news story on the event at 9pm that day reported the comments of at least three women.

Veteran scribe and founder of the Woman’s Newsroom Foundation Njeri Rugene has recorded that, “More female politicians are running for political office than ever—a huge plus for democracy. The forthcoming elections are slated to have an unprecedented number of female candidates”.

The governorship has attracted a record 10 women. Only three were elected in the last poll: Charity Ngilu in Kitui, Joyce Laboso in Bomet and Kirinyaga’s Anne Waiguru.

Seven women are in the race for Senate. The National Assembly race has attracted 25 women in at least 22 constituencies, more than half of them defending seats, Njeri reports.

“One outstanding effort is empowerment of potential women aspirants and candidates. Empowerment and training of interest groups such as the media is also visible. The Media Council of Kenya (MCK), for instance, has been training journalists in all aspects of election coverage, including gender inclusivity and sensitivity.  So far, MCK has conducted [training for more than 3,000 journalists]”.

Are these huge efforts bearing fruit? Yes. But changing male chauvinist mindsets remains a painfully slow process. Gordon Osen of Lion Place reminds us news is still male. We all must do more to change this.

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