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South African women taking charge in the newsroom

E. Machirori

E. Machirori

(GIN) — Women of color are making strides in newsrooms across South Africa. This new development was highlighted by the “rock star” of South African journalism, Ferial Haffajee, in a recap of gender accomplishments for International Women’s Day.

“Today, I am happy to say, women hold strategic editorial positions across all platforms including broadcasting, print and online,” Haffajee, the editor in chief of City Press newspaper, said in a press interview.

“South Africa has a constitution, which guarantees equality, and there are laws that encourage companies to meet the value of equal rights. So, we have a good resource to draw upon,” she remarked.

But the struggle to create equal opportunities for women in a traditionally male profession still has a way to go, according to a study by the Print Media and Diversity Task team (an industry initiative). In South Africa, these challenges relate to flexible working hours (to enable careers for women with children); flexible work from home arrangements; a culture of networking at the bar or on the golf course; and a macho newsroom culture. Similar challenges are faced by women worldwide, she said.

“For the rest of Africa,” continued Haffajee, “I’ve come across issues including a casting-couch approach to newsroom hires, patriarchal practices (especially in state-owned media) and low pay. All these can force women journalists out of the profession.”

Without women’s voices, Haffajee argued, media would be shortchanging its readers. “The media is a mirror,” she said. “To not include an equal number of women’s voices as specialists, subjects, opinion-shapers and leaders is to hold up a fractured mirror to our societies. There is improvement, but it’s not nearly enough.”

In neighboring Zimbabwe, however, conditions for women have failed to keep up with those in surrounding countries. Edna Machirori, a 50-year veteran of the profession, recites the challenges faced by women who report the news — a hostile media environment, unfair dismissal, denial of a fair salary.

“Throughout my career, I have struggled against gender prejudice,” Machirori told HuffPost Live in an interview. “In a patriarchal society and a profession in which national issues must be debated objectively, the willingness to do so is not necessarily seen as a plus for a woman. Such a woman is seen as an aberration from the norm of what a woman should be: docile and silent.”

Machirori, one of the first women in Zimbabwean media and the first Black female editor of a newspaper in Zimbabwe, rose through the ranks of newspapers including The Chronicle and The Financial Gazette.

Meanwhile, Haffajee, executive board member of the International Press Institute, will be co-hosting the IPI’s World Congress planned for April 12-15 in Cape Town. She was the first woman of color to serve as editor of a major newspaper in South Africa. Her advice to young reporters?  Be curious. Know you are an equal. Learn all you can.

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