Agonies of female gentlemen of the press

By Faith Yahaya

Apart from the usual hazards of the profession which all journalists face, Faith Yahaya highlights peculiar challenges, especially sexual harassment, which female journalists cope with on the job.

Until she got married and later pregnant, Josephine Ella-Ejeh, formerly a staff of an Abuja-based newspaper had no problem with her bosses at work.  No one doubted her capacity to discharge her editorial assignments.

Even though she remained as productive as she was despite her new condition, she suddenly got reassigned without being told why.

“They just woke up one day and asked me to leave my beat for someone else and that I would now be assisting an editor on the weekend   desk, ” Ella-Ejeh recalled in an Interview with The Nation.

“This new ‘responsibility’ was without official letter or anything. It was not clearly stated and when I tried to ask questions, I was told to either proceed on the new assignment or resign. From the look of things, I felt they were just looking for a soft way to let me go without the fingers pointing directly at them.”

She eventually had to resign because according to her, “I felt I was being witch-hunted for getting married and pregnant.”

Apart from the circumstance that led to her resignation, the beats she covered, which included the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and other security-related beats exposed her to sexual harassment. Some of her sources withheld information and were unwilling to give it to her until she gives them her body in return.

Although her case may not be typical, Ella-Ejeh’s plight represents some of the major challenges female journalists have to contend with in the newsrooms and on the beats the cover.

Ifeyinwa Omowale, President, National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ)

Interviews with Female journalists, including young and experienced professionals revealed that more than the usual hazards every journalists face at work, there are some gender related ones, including sexual harassment, lack of prospects like their male colleagues and unfriendly maternity conditions of service.

Some of those interviewed for this story declined to be named to avoid being targeted by senior male journalists who may not like their views on the issue.

A female journalist, who didn’t want to be mentioned for fear of being sacked in her present place of work, was also forced to resign her job in her former work place when she got demoted for daring to ask for equal pay and conditions of service with male counterparts who were earning more than her.

“I was demoted to a Senior Correspondent from the rank of Assistant Editor. I had to leave because my male counterparts, who were supposed to be my junior at the workplace, were getting higher pay.

“The environment was just not conducive for me as a woman.  When I was pregnant; the management probed and tried to get me to disclose my Expected Date of Delivery (EDD) which was my private information before giving me maternity leave.  I just had to leave,” she explained.

Even when she joined another media outfit and she was offered the position of a Deputy Editor, her male boss didn’t want her; he wanted a man because he had the mindset that women are incompetent for the job.

“When ministerial screening was on, as a deputy editor, he made me monitor the televised screening.  He was not giving me the job I was supposed to do. Even as a reporter I didn’t monitor news, but I was made to do that and I felt he thought I was incompetent because I am a woman.”

For Juliana Francis who started her journalism career in 2001 and is presently a Crime Editor with New Telegraph Newspapers, she had more than her own ‘fair’ share of sexual harassments and stigmatization that almost forced her to quit the beat she was covering.

“I was single when I started working, so I had a lot of sexual challenges and harassment and I could not take it because I am a rape survivor,” Francis who is now married with kids recalled.

“I met sexual harassment in journalism. Crime beat is actually a beat where you would find very few women. Then, we were not more than four on the beat and everybody was making advances. You are being sexually harassed in the office, you are being sexually harassed on the beat and an average uniform man is amorous.

Juliana Francis

“Some of them want to give you information and they want you to pay with sex. In the office, you get to hear made-up stories that you have slept with virtually everybody. In fact, the story I got was that I had slept with nine men. I don’t understand why it should be like that.

“Sometimes, the senior people you are looking up to would take you out and the next thing is to take you to hotel. It is on record that I was the only junior reporter that went to a very senior person and I told the person to stop it because I was single and he was spoiling my chances of getting married and he was shocked.

“On the police beat they would try to touch you inappropriately but I never allowed it. At a point, people even said I was sleeping with a former Inspector-General of Police. But we were not and in all honesty the man never talked to me in that way to show that he was interested in me. That gave me problem and at a point I thought of quitting the beat.

“I made move towards it but my boss said I was going to meet it on every beat because I am a woman journalist which means he knew what I was talking about because he has been there for decades before I came in. For him to say that, I decided to toughen up and I started covering the beat.”

Based on her experience, Bunmi Yekini of Radio One, Lagos also said female journalists are also stigmatized by male colleagues and the public as loose women.

“They feel it is a male dominated area and when they see women come into it, the first thing that comes to their mind is that they are prostitutes, especially if you are already at the top. They feel you have sold your body in exchange for the promotion or position. They forget that female journalists have brains too just like the male counterparts.”

Beyond sexual harassment, Francis noted that marriage is also a challenge for female journalists.

Most female journalists according to her are single mothers not because they don’t want to keep their marriage, but lack of understanding of what journalism entails by the men they married.

“You are likely to find out that some female journalists who have successful marriages are married to male journalists because they understand better. Sometimes, my husband asks why men call me more but that is what the job entails.  There are more men in the newsroom and even on crime beat, your sources and the people we meet most are men.”

Another female journalist in the print media who claimed to have passion for the job said the profession has denied her some things she would have loved to do as lady and caused her emotional trauma.

“I can’t count the number of outings and dates I have cancelled because of impromptu assignments. Journalism is the kind of job that you wake up sometimes and you cannot ascertain where you would be or what you would do because the job itself is unpredictable. I don’t attend church services the way I want to, no thanks to this job.

“The most painful challenge I have faced as a woman journalist is menstrual pain. Most media managers are men and they don’t understand what it means to be in such pain.  All they are bothered or concerned about is the job.

Another thing that I have observed in the media is the fact that most women don’t get to the top, this makes a female journalist to lose her morale because she thinks that at the end of the day, she is not so likely to be given the top position.”

A female journalist in the broadcast media who covers the National Assembly complained that her organisation sent her there as a way to bring in advert which would generate revenue for the company.

“They feel I should use what I have to get what they want,” she said.

Another female journalist who struggled to open up to The Nation said she was tired of the job but cannot leave because of the alarming rate of unemployment and little job opportunities.

“I am really tired of this job because the rate of sexual harassment in the newsroom is too much. You would be shocked to find out that my boss has sexually harassed most of the females who were and who are in the organization  as IT student, Corp members and even the female staff.

This is what I live with daily but I cannot leave because leaving would mean me joining thousands in the labour market seeking employment. It is painful that he does whatever he likes and gets away with it because he is the boss. ”

Lara Owoeye-Wise

Lara Owoeye-Wise of Africa Independent Television (AIT) who has been on the job for over 25 years said her major challenge was the work environment. “I had to grapple with the challenges of what I call the tools of trade because it is already a daunting challenge being a female and married with children and combining all that with professional job. It is more daunting that the things that should make your job easier for you, you don’t have them and that becomes double ‘wahala’.”

She said she had always clamored for crèche in media houses because  according to her  “there is no way a nursing-mother would give her best knowing that her child is miles away and at the mercy of the house help.”

While acknowledging the special challenges women have to cope with on the job, Moji Makanjuola, a celebrated TV journalist and President of Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), Mrs. Funke Egbemode offered suggestions on how overcome them and excel.

“Women need to assert themselves and those coming must know that it is hard work. It has to do with your brains and tenacity.  It is not administrative or filing job.  As a journalist you have to be versatile. Read and learn. Seek your knowledge. You must broaden your horizon and you must report from a point of knowledge because that way, you would make your own name” Makanjola said.

Egbemode who is Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, New Telegraph said female journalists are special and must marry special partners, noting that their divine assignment hinders them from carrying out their professional role   as   expected.

Funke Egbemode

“A woman is a woman and she has duties that are assigned to her by God. So, she takes time off to make babies, she takes time off to nurse her marriage and ensure that things don’t go wrong.  Because a woman has to do all of that, she doesn’t have the luxury of time to pay quality attention as men pay to their career,” she said.

Although other female professional may face similar situation on their jobs, Egbemode noted that journalism is a bit more tasking mentally and physically.

“We have no working hours;   a woman has to contend with that to rise in the newsroom.  There is also the issue of the kind-of partner she ends up with. I always say that a journalist is a special kind of woman, she is a special kind of professional, and she needs a special kind of man.

“Ordinary   men   can’t   marry   journalist.   So   in   choosing   a   partner,   you   must acknowledge yourself as a woman that you are special because your needs are special, so you must find a man who can help you grow,  who can nurture you and who is very comfortable in his own skin. He does not have complex issues, and does not think that you taking a photograph with a minister mean that you know the minister.

“You need a man who would know that whatever you become, whoever you are and whatever you do, you are part of him and that your achievements are his achievements, your failure and strength are his. If you want to rise to be Editor in Chief, you cannot marry a man a man who sees you as a business woman who should open a chain of restaurants because that is not what you want to be but that is what he wants you to be and there will be friction, tension and stress, ” Egbemode advised.

On sexual harassment, Egbemode said it is not peculiar to journalism and urged female journalists to take necessary precautions in the newsroom and on the beat. “You do not have to do what you don’t want to do and an Editor will use a good story. If you are faced with sexual harassment, you should use your feminism and smartness to your advantage.”

While the newsroom and the job is not generally gender sensitive, Egbemode’s counsel is that female journalists should be ready to prove to that they are indeed capable ‘gentlemen’ like their male colleagues.

“The job just has to be done. So you can’t come into the newsroom, wanting to feel like a woman and expecting   that certain things   would be handed to you   as a   woman. You just   need to   prove yourself that you can hold down the job. You need to plan. The job is tough but if you stay focused you will make it.

“That is why a lot of women can’t continue and you can’t blame them because it is very difficult. For women who are just coming into the newsroom, you should just know that the men are not going to hand you anything on a platter of gold. They are not going to give you special concession. In fact, when you ask for concessions, they begin to   look   down on you.  You need to   find   a way to get   your   own   job done.”

To curb the high rate of sexual harassments in the newsrooms, participants in the Female Reporters Leadership Fellowship organized by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism called for anti- sexual harassments policies in media houses.

The National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ) was urged to take up the challenge of demanding for this policy and others that will make the media environment more conducive for female journalists.

“We need to speak out because the more we keep quiet, the more the harassment will thrive,” a participant stated.

Faith Yahaya