Women’s History Month: U.S. Consulate celebrates women journalists
By Jemi Ekunkunbor
Ahead of International Women’s Day on March 8 and in celebration of Women’s History Month as well as the opening of the American Corner, the U.S. Consulate in Lagos, held a one-day panel discussion on Women in Journalism.
The one-of-a-kind event which took place at the Ikeja American Corner, Lagos, brought together in one space, female journalists from TV, radio, newspapers, online media, female mass communication students and faculty members from journalism schools as well as female representatives from media development organizations.
Four key points formed the agenda for the day; Raising a strong community of female reporters with leadership prowess, who can put conversations on violence against girls and women, criminal justice and human rights on the front burner, dearth of women in senior management positions in Nigerian newsrooms, gender equality in the news, newsrooms, and the society at large, challenges and opportunities for women journalists in Nigeria, in particular, how to empower women journalists with the training, opportunities, and support to become leaders in the news industry, and media freedom and the safety of female journalists.
In an opening remark, Public Affairs Officer, US Consulate, Stephen Ibelli, said most media houses are still tilted in favour of men in terms of number, as they make up the majority in many newsrooms with the imbalance even more visible at the top. He said women should be at the forefront as managers or owners of media houses in the fight against this gender imbalance.
Ahead of the 2023 elections he admonished women to say no to programmes that feature only men while hoping the discussions will encourage all female journalists as well as break down barriers.
The discussion which kicked off with coverage of conflicts and crises situations had Arise TV correspondent, Seyitan Atigarin taking the first shot. Sharing her experience, Seyitan said when it comes to crises, one can never tell how events will pan out and in the heat of the crises, she didn’t think as a man or a woman but just as a reporter passionate to get the job done. She revealed that standing long hours covering the red carpet, prepared her for the long time she watch covering the #EndSars crises at the Lekki Toll Gate.
Giving a graphic description of a work day covering crises, Deutsche Welle West Africa Correspondent, Amaka Okoye, described conflict coverage as “horrendous.” According to her, you never know how things will turn out but one thing she reminds herself is that “this story has to be told.”
Amaka who did an extensive work covering the Chibok crises and the reunion of the girls said, “you are never quite prepared” but added that and being able to speak the language and dressing to fit into the environment she was covering all helped her. However, she pointed out that removing oneself completely from the horrors of conflict can be very difficult like that of Kebbi and Zamfara. “I had a nervous breakdown” and “had to invest in therapy” she revealed.
CNN Africa Supervising Editor, Stephanie Busari, hailed the initiative of the US Consulate in bringing women together describing this event as one of her “best moments.”
She said women covering crises bring a level of empathy to reporting as they do so with heart and compassion. “I embrace my gender in reporting” she stated “So, it’s okay to cry.”
She said female journalists must tackle men who stereotype them at press conferences when they address women as “Gentlemen of the press.”
She said media owners and news managers must find competent women and give them more opportunities noting that “one side cannot be telling the story.”
She said the way to bridge the gender gap is for women to work harder and smarter, find areas where they have a niche, and make contacts that others don’t have that will give them an edge.
For Super Sport TV Host, Chisom Mbonu-Ezeoke, being a loner in a predominantly men’s turf, men became her first source of inspiration. At the beginning, being the only woman made her become “one of the guys” and this had its advantage. However, she said that it is regrettable and a failure on her part and those who came before her, that in 2022, “we are still talking about only Chisom.”
When a participant sought to know if the risk attached to journalism will not affect marriage and work-life balance, all panelists disagreed. Amaka said with a good support system, a woman will do well, but added that a woman’s success should not be tied to marriage.
Chisom pointed that beside the harzard of the job that can put pressure on the marriage, she said there are pressures that come with marriage that has nothing to do with the job.
Stephanie was of the view that “marriage should enhance your life and personal goals”.
The highly educative discuss came to a climax with wise counsels from the panelists. For the mental health of the journalist, Amaka says accepting that you are weak works magic. Allow yourself to be vulnerable.”
“Pull back and let go” says Chisom.”
And as the moderator, Channel’s TV Foreign Affairs Editor, Amarachi Ubani puts it, when it gets overwhelming, “suck it up and move on.”