Safety and Protection of Journalists is becoming a major concern in Kenya, with numerous cases of violence, intimidation and threats against journalists on the increase.
A majority of the reported cases are mostly from the male journalists while few, if any, from the females. While addressing female journalists in a forum organized by the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) in partnership with HIVOS, AMWIK’s Executive Director Ms. Helen Obande noted a gap in the discussions revolving around safety issues affecting female journalists’ experience.
“Female journalist’s security issues extend in the workplace as there is a prevalence of sexual harassment, character assassination and demands for sexual favors in the newsrooms,” she said. Helen also noted that the personal and professional implication of workplace harassment means some victims never report on the abuse. “This is a sensitive issue and most people don’t want to speak about it even though they acknowledge that it exists. Most of them fear to share because they fear to lose their jobs or intimidated,” she said.
Gitahi Githuku of the Media Working Group (MWG) on the Safety and Protection of Journalists acknowledged the gap that existed for female journalists. “Women journalists have not been documented hence the need to determine the gendered aspects of violence against female journalists.”
Presenting the UNESCO Journalists Safety Indicators, Wangethi Mwangi of the Africa Media Initiative expressed dissatisfaction on the environment the journalists were operating in. “The environment should be threats, harassment and surveillance free,” he said. As a way of staying safe measures journalists should be provided with litigation support to fight impunity, be provided with transport, protective gear and finances when carrying risky assignment and address gender and cultural sensitive issues such as sexual harassment,” he added.
The participants were informed of a 10 point charter for media owners, managers and editors to ensure journalists’ safety in their work environment. “The charter commits media houses to think about safety of the journalists and by conducting a risk analysis and taking responsibilities to mitigate the risks,” Gitahi encouraged the participants to push their media houses to sign the charter which is available for its first implementation. “There is need to also force sexual abuse cases into the heart of management,” he added.
Amos Kibet of the Media Council of Kenya noted that gender inequalities in the media houses are as a result of lack of gender policies. Quoting Media Council study on gender representation in the media, Kibet pointed out that the Kenyan media was male dominated and men were 10 times more likely to be news sources. “If we had gender policies in place, it would guide the media houses on recruitment and balanced reporting,” he said.
Kibet assured the female journalists that mechanisms for reporting sexual harassment cases had been put in place at the media council of Kenya. However, the participants were worried of the confidentiality mechanism set in place when addressing such issues. Helen noted the gap for women in reporting and offered AMWIK’s support in handling such cases.
“AMWIK can provide a mechanism where such cases can be handled by a legal officer and offer the services online for women who would not want to be identified,” she said. It was noted that women are lone rangers in media houses and lack solidarity when addressing such issues. The participants were advised to be their sister’s keeper by assisting there female colleagues in addressing some of these issues. There is also a need to join journalists associations like AMWIK which has members who they can use to report such issues.
In discussing laws and policies for the protection of women journalists in Kenya, Yvonne Wamari from National Center for Human Resources Development (NCHRD) noted that where gender stereotypes were propagated in and through the media, they reinforced inequalities in gender power relations and provided justification for the perpetuation of discriminatory practices based on gender.
She called on the female journalists to identify themselves as Human Rights Defenders (HRD) to access protection mechanisms easily which they may not otherwise be able to access. “It is important that journalists find out how they can be able to define themselves as individual community within the broader HRD community.
This means reflecting on the particularity of risks and threats that their work poses, and hence on their specific security and protection needs, so that organizations working with and for the HRDs can adapt their programs accordingly.” She said. The participants were tasked to familiarize yourself on protection and limitation of media freedom and security provided for under international, regional and national legislation; encourage your media house to sign on the charter on safety of journalists;
Safety Tips for Women journalists
Source; Sherry Ricchiardi, international journalist and media development specialist based in Washington D.C
- Dress professionally; conduct yourself with confidence and pride in your role as a journalist
- Ensure you have a survival kit when reporting on risky assignments e.g. paper sprays, condoms, pen knife.
- Make clear that suggestive comments, crude jokes and inappropriate touches are offensive to you. Ask the abuser, “Would you speak to your mother, sister or wife this way? Would you want someone treating them the way you are treating me?
- When on risky assignments, wear a ring that could double for a wedding band. Mention a boyfriend or husband even if one doesn’t exist at the time.
- Fend off offensive behavior by saying, “My husband (or father) would not like you talking (or treating) me this way.”
- In a calm but resolute manner remind the guilty party that you are a professional woman and that you demand the same respect that males in the newsroom receive.
- Keep a written record of what was said or done to you. Record time, date, place and your response. Add the names of any witnesses
- If the behavior hinders your work and well being, talk to someone you trust. Check out legal recourse and supportive networks through NGOs or women’s organizations.
- If you are being stalked or fear for your life, go to the authorities. Write down the names of the officers you talk with and request a copy of the report. Ask how quickly they will act. Take a witness to observe their attitude and behavior towards you.
- Encourage company management to create a system for reporting sexual harassment, including penalties for offenders