Wading through the storm: A challenge for female investigative journalists

By Temitope Bademosi

Working in a male-dominated space is challenging for women journalists and even more for those whose work focuses on uncovering societal ills and issues that many would like to keep buried.

Being a female investigative journalist is not only dangerous but also brings with it untold anguish and other external factors which often discourage women journalists from pursuing this field of work. This was revealed on the third day of the16th edition of the African Investigative Journalism Conference 2020 (AIJC2020), which brought together hundreds of journalists from across the world. The conference took place virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gender balance in newsrooms, sexual harassment, unequal pay and stereotypes that women are the weaker gender are some of the barriers facing many female journalists in Africa today, attendees of the session titled, The challenges facing women investigative reporters, learned. This is despite the fact that more women are launching their investigative careers despite struggling to be heard.

Facilitated by the chief executive officer of Frayintermedia, Paula Fray, and a panel of some of the continent’s leading female investigative journalists, the session sought to come up with solutions to the challenges plaguing women in this field.

Founder of Uwezo Afrika Initiative, Douce Namwezi, talked participants through her harrowing experiences as an investigative journalist in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and also shared tips with other women reporters on how to navigate through this seemingly ‘difficult’ terrain.

“When you are a woman journalist trying to dig for information, they intimidate you. At times they even propose bribes, so that you don’t divulge information about what they are doing. Another reality I would like to mention regarding the security of female journalist is that you can be in danger of being raped or be killed as a way of trying to silence you,” said Namwezi.

Her contribution also focused on the strategies that can be employed by women as well as realistic ways of confronting these challenges, encouraging women in this field to seek information and continue to create awareness.

The only man taking part in this panel, Coordinator of the Organisation de la Societe Civile Ou Non-Gouvernementale, Arnaud Ouedraogo, noted that the male bias in the investigative industry is a deeply-rooted one.

“The roots for exclusion for women in journalism are broader than skills and involve deeper cultural elements that prevent women from taking these roles. The problems sometimes come from the women journalists themselves who do not have enough self-confidence to assert themselves,” he said.

He advocated for specific training and reduction of gender gap in media houses where women have little or no participation in important roles or as investigative journalists. He further called for a public debate and for these issues to continually be on the front burner so as to bridge the gap between male and female journalists.

For the first time during the conference, participants were invited to share the challenges they encounter as female investigative journalists. Ugandan investigative journalist, Barbara Among, said it has become dangerous to investigate corporates in Uganda. She revealed that her life and that of her loved ones has been threatened by powerful corporations who went as far as paying journalist colleagues to spy on her. Apart from doing their work, female journalists also have to concern themselves with protecting the lives of their loved ones who find themselves in danger because of the investigative work done by their female reporter relatives, added Among.

Kathy Magrobi, Director of Quote this Woman+, a resource for helping journalist’s find women’s voices for their stories as well as to ensure that no voice is left behind, lamented the limited voices of women in media stories across the board. She took participants through her research that revealed that women’s participation in the media remains miniscule when mirrored against that of males.

The Quote this Woman+ database has more than 350 credible women expert/ thought leader sources from overlooked demographics and over 40 categories and topics and is currently accessible to journalists free of charge. Magrobi encouraged journalists to make use of their database by simply registering to www.quotethiswoman.org.za.

The slightly-extended panel discussion, which went over the normal 60-minute slot,  ended with participants pledging to support one another and ensure that voices of female investigative journalist and females in general are heard, without any reservations.

About the author: 

Temitope Bademosi is a Nigerian broadcast journalist with a passion for exposing the ills in grassroots communities, who remain under-represented and under-reported, and also holding the powerful to account. Bademosi is an AIJC2020 Fellow.