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Female journalists strategise for visibility at AWIM 2018 conference

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Ajorin Abinifoluwa (left); Dr. Adama Adamu; Dr. Babafemi Akintayo; Dr. Oluyinka Esan; Dr. Hadizat Ibrahim, and Dr. Mofoluke Akoja in a panel last week at African Women in Media Conference 2018… in Ibadan

Right from the family, which is the smallest unit of society to the government, considered to be the apex of every society, there is the popular notion that sensitive leadership roles should be reserved for the male folk, who are considered strong and more capable. The female folk, however, are required to handle unimportant positions since they are regarded to be weak, highly emotional and less capable of effective leadership.

The likes of Queen Moremi of Ile-Ife, who saved her kingdom form destruction, Madam Nwanyeruwa, who led the Aba women riot, Queen Amina, who led men into battles, Funmi Ransome-Kuti, a strong activist who fought for Nigeria’s independence proved this notion wrong. Little wonder the present-day woman is fighting hard to free herself from such societal entanglements and constraints. She is now resolved to compete favourably with her male counterpart for leadership positions regardless of the odds.

It was this mood that pervaded the second African Women in the Media (AWIM) Conference 2018, held last week at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. ‘Women, rise up and fight’ was the war-like chant on the lips of participants made up of practicing African female journalists, who gathered to discuss issues affecting them in media organisations. It also had in attendance male journalists, corporate players from financial institutions, female entrepreneurs, academic researchers, writers, filmmakers and artistes.

With ‘Visibility’ (Be Visible to Inspire) as theme, the conference was aimed at encouraging women in the media and other business organisations to be conspicuous through their works and achievements. The conference also urged them to struggle to take up leadership roles and acquit themselves creditably. It also empowered delegates with the skills and inspiration they need to achieve recognition for their work, as it advocated for media establishments to be unbiased in gender equality.

While welcoming guests, co-founder of AWIM, Dr. Yemisi Akinbobola, stated that she was satisfied at the numerous achievements of the group since inception, saying she hoped for more so as to empower more women in taking leadership roles in the media.

“It is very exciting to see my vision for AWIM become a reality. When I set up the group in 2016, it was in response to my search for a supportive network for women like myself in media industries. The growth of the group over the last 18 months has been extraordinary and this is just the beginning.”

The panel on ‘Break the silence: Health, Violence and Media’ focused on the health issues women struggle against, which are caused by physical, sexual and psychological violence, obnoxious and dehumanising cultural practices of some African communities and how female journalists should consistently report these issues in order to bring a lasting solution to them. It had as panelists a seniour lecturer from Bayero University, Kano, Dr. Hadizat Ibrahim, Dr. Babafemi Akintayo and Dr. Mofoluke Akoja from the Department of Mass Communication, Babcock University, lecturer at Department of Mass Communication, Ahmadu Bello Uuniversity, Zaria, Dr. Adama Adamu, a PhD student of Lagos State University, Raheemat Adeniran, with a media researcher, Dr. Oluyinka Esan, moderating the session.

Adeniran, in her presentation on ‘Emergent gender issues in Nigerian newspapers coverage on maternal and child healthcare,’ bemoaned the lack of adequate reportage on the high rate of mortality in Nigeria. She said this was because journalists assigned to the beat are mostly men, who are not able to report it the way a woman would.

“Nigeria has one of the highest mortality rates in the world and we don’t seem to have a permanent solution to it because it is not well reported,” Adeniran said. “It is so because journalists who cover these stories are mostly men because the health desk is considered to be a vital beat and so men should be assigned to report these stories. But we have found out that these male journalists do not report it the way it should be and so we tend to face the same challenge every year. What I therefore enjoin every media organisation to do is to give this sensitive duty to the women because it is only one who knows where the shoe pinches that can offer solution. The female journalists are also mothers and they pass through these things; therefore they would clamour more for a permanent solution to it.”

Adamu spoke on ‘Curbing cultural practices affecting maternal health in Hausa rural communities: A role for women journalists’ and highlighted the obnoxious practice against young girls and pregnant women in the northern part of Nigeria. She stated that the major causes of mortality in the Hausa communities were as a result of stiff traditions, which have dire consequences on women.

“The Hausa tribe has some loathsome practices which they diligently follow,” she said. “Practices like early marriage, which is backed by religious doctrines, excision of the hymen of infant girls (hymenectomy – cut done to aid delivery), ban of nutritious food during pregnancy, silent enduring of pain (dauriya), multiple pregnancies (gwarne), female subordination, fire and heat treatment (wankan jego). These practices have horrible consequences on the victims and sometimes lead to death of the infant or the mother.”

Adamu called on the sensitive duty of reporting these stories to be given to female journalists because “they suffer the same fate with these women.”

“I discovered that the reportage of the issue are mainly carried out by male journalists. But my question is, will the male journalist approach the victims the way a female would? Will the victim be free to divulge some sensitive information to him? Will she ever open her body to him to have access to the fact? Of course, not. Therefore, this role should be given solely to the female journalists so as to bring an effective solution to this menace. They should set agenda by focusing on provision of public information aimed at raising awareness, ensure that information is effectively communicated to the target audiences and embark on communication campaigns that will ginger the women and their husbands to have a sense of trust from their respective cultural restrictions.”

On his part, Akintayo spoke on ‘Influence of TV viewing on eating disorder among female undergraduate’ in which he lamented the role of the media in portraying ‘sensationalized models,’ which has affected the eating habit of female Nigerians. According to him, the media has over time promoted incredibly slim ladies as ‘perfect’ and so has made ladies lose their natural stature in order to look like these ‘perfect beings.’

According to him, “Without anybody stating or writing in black and white, as a people we have come to accept subconsciously what we see on TV over time as the determinant of what is ideal. Despite cultural ideologies, contention with such projected ideals, overtime we (society) yields to the dictates and depictions of the media. Some television programmes use thin models or actresses to promote a product or as the character that is perfect, while those who are plus-sized or above the average standard are not or much less often used for promotions and are usually the object of ridicule or stigmatization in role play. This is why majority of our ladies now inflict on themselves anorexia in order to look like the ‘perfect creatures’ and avoid being jettisoned by society and maintain the ideal body size so as to feel good about themselves.”

Akintayo therefore called on female journalists to educate viewers on the right thing to follow by making them realise that what they see on TV is just ‘make-believe’ and not the real or ideal thing.

While speaking on ‘Social media involvement in breaking women’s culture of silence and sexual violence,’ Akoja expressed happiness at the wonderful role social media is playing in creating a platform where women who have been harassed sexually or were undergoing unacceptable cultural practices could come and voice out their displeasures. Using the ‘#metoo’ campaign on Twitter as a typical example, Akoja urged female journalists to complement the effectiveness of the movement by consistently reporting attacks on women on a daily basis.

“Sexual violence is a very devastating issue affecting women and we seem not to be making any headway in getting out of this problem,” Akoja noted. “Societal belief, individual differences and culture and tradition are major hindrance to our emancipation. However, we can now see that there is a freedom movement going on all over the world in which victims no longer give a hoot on the consequences of their revelations but now come out boldly to call for the end of this terrible monster affecting them. It is however a pity that we in the media seem to not care about what is going on in the society. How many of these attacks are well reported on a daily basis? The female journalists should therefore use their power to fight for justice against perpetrators of these nefarious acts and see that this issue becomes history in no distant time.”


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AWiMYemisi Akinbobola
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