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Where are women’s expert voices in coverage of medics strike?

It has been exactly 30 days since medical practitioners took to the streets, but if you are a foreigner and happened to watch the news or read Kenyan newspapers this week, you would think there are no female experts who can be sources of news.

In the study The Missing Perspectives of Women in News, Luba Kassova found that when women are featured in the news, it is often as subjects of suffering or as persons without agency to make their own decisions.

“Women’s share of quoted voice in news has not reached parity in any news genre in the six countries, including arts and media or health,” the study says. “Men feature as story protagonists three times more frequently in the UK and Kenya compared to women, four times more frequently in India, South Africa and the US and six times more frequently in Nigeria.”

The researcher also found that “women are more likely to be used as sources who share subjective views than experts sharing authoritative expertise”.

The Media Observer sampled coverage of the medics strike last week to check adherence to the Code of Conduct, which states that women and men shall be treated equally as news subjects and news sources.

The Monday Report news show on Citizen TV on April 8, 2024, which lasted 32 minutes, featured five male protagonists.

In Patients continue suffering as doctors’ strike persist, which was aired on April 10, the story highlights the experience of a mother tending to a child with special needs.

On the Day Break—State of the Nation show of April 11, which lasted 30 minutes, the guests on the panel were three men.

On KTN’s Newshour, for the discussion dubbed The anatomy of medics strike, a segment which aired for one hour and 30 minutes on April 10, the news anchor hosted three male guests.

Parliament in turmoil: MPs divided as health crisis deepens amid doctors’ strike’, which aired on April 10 had three male MPs.

In Health crisis deepens: doctors & clinical officers continue strike despite president ruto’s plea, which aired on April 10, there were five men and one woman.

Opposition leaders threaten to step in and support protesting doctors, which aired on April 9 on NTV, had three guests, one a woman.

On the Your World show, which also aired for one hour on April 9, the panellists who discussed ‘What the Kenyan Constitution says about protesting’ included one man and two women.

In the story titled CoG blames national government over health sector mess, the reporter featured the voices of two men.

The Daily Nation article titled State orders doctors to resume work within 24 hours or face consequences featured five men.

Major showdown as Azimio leaders threaten to join doctors’ strike, published on April 9, had eight voices, all male. One woman was featured in the article, but as a subject of suffering.

In As doctors strike across Kenya, it’s business as usual in Lamu hospitals, published on April 8, the first source in the story is a female resident. There are six sources: of the two women featured, one is a protagonist, and the other is a patient at a hospital.

A look at The Standard:

The article, Doctors’ strike continues to bite as patients suffer slow services, published on April 11, had seven sources: six of them were protagonists, all male. The woman was a patient.

The story Karua slams Ruto over inaction on doctors’ strike, published on April 8, featured one female protagonist and two men.

In Medics on the street despite Kindiki’s directive, published on April 9, the article features two men.

A look at the Star reveals the following:

In KU hospital hires 5 foreign medics amid biting doctors’ strike, published on April 9, features three sources, all female.

In Doctors deny accusations of intimidation amidst strike, published on April 9, two male antagonists are quoted.

In Our priorities are wrong: Wamuchomba on doctors’ strike, published on April 8, the writer quotes three protagonists: one woman and two men.

These examples are by no means representative of Kenya’s entire media landscape but serve as a good indicator of where the media is falling short, leaving women — who form half of the country’s population — under-represented in conversations regarding their health.

So, how can the media address this issue? Begin by self-monitoring their coverage of health and other sectors just as lead presenter Ros Atkins did before he established the BBC’s 50:50 Project in January 2017.

According to Kassova, Atkins was “frustrated by slow progress on achieving gender balance [and] opted to become a ‘confronter’ on the issue”. In so doing, “he sparked a revolution across the organisation”.

It contributes to the “BBC’s overall aim of women holding 50% of on screen, on air, online and lead roles across all program genres”. And through partnerships, the 50:50 Project has now extended to 60 organisations across 20 countries.

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