Event Recap – #BalanceforBetter – Gender Balance in the Ethiopian Media Outlets

For this year’s commemoration of International Women’s Day (IWD), AWiB collaborated with Earuyan Solutions to organize a joint session in line with the international call to #BalanceforBetter. The event was held on March 7th, 2019. It commenced with an introduction by Sewit Haileselassie, the 2019 President of the association; then a brief introduction to Earuyan Solutions (www.earuyan.com), event agenda and panelists by Tsinu Amdeselassie; the current Managing Director of Earuyan Solutions.

The event was comprised of two main sessions. The first was a panel discussion titled ‘Gender balance in the Ethiopian media outlet’ focusing on exploring Ethiopian media reporting and coverage of female politicians as well as women’s representation in the Ethiopian media landscape broadly and in the newsroom in particular.

Panelists include Bethlehem Negash, media and communications consultant, columnist at Addis Maleda and a writer at African Feminism (www.africanfeminism.com). Befkadu Hailu, a Deputy Executive Manager at Addis Maleda, a team member at the Ethiopian Human Rights Project and a blogger. Meti Shewaye Yilma, the 2018 AWiB President, a media relations and communications adviser and the Chief Visionary Officer at Queendom Media. Getachew Melaku, a Managing Director at Nizenu Media Education, the outgoing General Manager at Ahadu Radio and the previous Deputy Executive Editor at Addis Maleda. The session was moderated by Hirut Dawit, a Media and Communications Specialist, currently at ILO.

The seminar began with the moderator asking participants to reflect on their personal observation and experience of how they see the media reporting on women politicians who have been recently appointed into leadership role. Meti started by sharing her personal experience of how it has been difficult to be working in a male dominated industry. She went on sharing her experience when she used to be a producer and how she used to urge reporters to use female sources as there has always been trends in using male sources. Meti shared, “I used to challenge them to use female sources; if not, I wouldn’t have approved their stories. In fear of having their being subjected to rejection, reporters started to pay due regard for gender balance in their sources.”

Getachew, pointed out that he has observed two types of narratives emerging in this recent phenomena; one being a token of appreciation for new appointed female politicians because women are mothers and have a more kind hearted approach to politics. The second one also related to a perceived biological inheritance of a woman being more responsible and less prone to corruption and greed. Talking about the broader media landscape, Getachew also added that the media industry does not create conducive environment for women to participate. Getachew also shared his experience of bias in sports reporting where men athletes’ achievements are prioritized despite higher achievements by their female counterparts.

Bethlehem followed by presenting some statistics on the Ethiopian media landscape quoting Fojo’s feasibility (2012) study that shows that Ethiopian journalism is still a male-dominated arena with more than 70 percent men and less than 30 percent women. This makes the Ethiopian newsroom one of the least gender-equal on the global scale. She also shared her personal experience of being side-lined while she was working as a journalist, supervisor and senior editor where resistance and aggression have been used to undermine. The gender composition in news rooms, representation in media and television shows favors men she says.

Lastly, Befeqadu touched upon critical concerns in terms of representation of women in the newsroom as well as news source. Quoting Selamawit Tafesse’s research paper (2016) on ‘Females as News Source: the case of Ethiopian Herald and the Reporter English Newspapers’, he pointed out that “In Ethiopia, there are about 28% women reporters. This makes it the 8th lowest in the world with 69% news sources being men, only 8% women, and the rest being document sources.”

Befeqadu also pointed out that the media coverage of female appointment in leadership position took a tone of questioning the skills of those appointed based on their gender. Were as in previous times loyalty to the government was more questioned Vs now whereby narratives about skills being compromised in the name of gender balance are emerging in media outlet.

The discussion subsequently gave room for questions from guests. Some of the critical questions raised were;

  • • What is the role of private companies and brands in ensuring gender sensitive communication and advertisement to consumers?
  • • What initiative are women taking to counter the challenges in the media sector?
  • • Why women are not present in the newsroom or political discussions in media?
  • • Why there is a need to have a gender segregated data and reporting?

Addressing the question on the responsibility of private companies, Meti pointed out that companies and brands are not being held accountable for the kind of message they project in their advertising campaigns; many of which portray women as the passive receiver of benefits were as men as sole providers. Other similar scenarios were also mentioned by Meti such as women being the brand ambassadors for detergent products, cooking product, often limiting the role of cooking and cleaning to female and further perpetuating gender stereotypes.

Bethelhem pointed out that there are institutions set up to ensure women’s representation in the media as in the Ethiopian Media Women Association (EMWA), however due to the charity and society proclamation of 2009, the association has been unable to operate in its fullest potential. Nonetheless, Betlehem expressed her hope for the revival of the association due to the ongoing revision of the proclamation.

Getachew also stressed the need for men to ‘allow’ and encourage women to play a greater role in the media industry by opening up opportunities for women to take up roles often dominated by men. Highlighting the challenges that women face in the media sector from not being taken seriously and the assignment of ‘soft topics’ to women, Getachew acknowledged that there is a lot more to be done in restructuring the sector as a whole.

Meti underscored the need for a gender segregated data to track progress of gender parity and equality in the media sector. According to Meti, “data tells a lot more about the reality of women in the media and provides solution by identifying the gaps that needs to be addressed”.

Befeqadu addressed the reason behind low number of women as news source. While acknowledging the fact that there is a lack of opportunity for women to participate in political and economic dialogue because it is seen as ‘hard’ topic and often invitations are forwarded to men, there is also a level of intimidation and backlash on women who take on political and economic topics. This in turn might discourage women to appear as sources.

Finally, the moderator highlighted initiative taken by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority and UN Women to curve the challenges facing Ethiopian media, specifically the newsroom. The initiative includes developing a guideline for gender responsive reporting.  The need for a much stricter editorial policies and implementations was also raised as one of the ways forward to ensuring gender balance in the media.

Right after the panel discussion, a selfie and pledge session took part wherein attendees were challenged by Earuyan Solutions to pledge how they will balance for better in their professional and social circles as well as in their homes. Simultaneously, a selfie pledge session wherein attendees had their pictures taken carrying pledge cards having statements such as:

  • “I will help forge a more gender balanced world”
  • “I will maintain a gender parity mindset”
  • “I will forge positive visibility of women”
  • “We will challenge stereotypes and biases”

The event came to an end with a closing remark by AWiB President, Sewit Haileselassie.

Summary by: Earuyan Solutions team

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