The Varied Pace of Women's Progress: Surveys by the International Federation of Journalists Find Similar Challenges but Contrasting Results for Women in Different Countries. (Women: International)

By Peters, Bettina | Nieman Reports, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

The Varied Pace of Women's Progress: Surveys by the International Federation of Journalists Find Similar Challenges but Contrasting Results for Women in Different Countries. (Women: International)


Peters, Bettina, Nieman Reports


"Women journalists are cracking the glass ceiling, but we must remember that when you break glass you may get scratches from the splinters. Women must be ready to take power in the newsroom; don't wait for the men to give it to you."

Dupe Ayayi-Gbadebo, editor in chief and managing director of Sketch Newspapers in Ibadan, Nigeria earned loud and prolonged applause for those comments at a women journalists' workshop in Lagos at the beginning of November. Dupe Gbadebo knows what she is talking about. At 45 years of age, she is one of three female editors in chief in Nigerian media (none at a major daily newspaper). It took her 20 years to get to the top, and she lost many female colleagues along the way who left journalism for advertising or public relations because they felt they'd never make it beyond sub-editor.

Women leaving journalism is not only a problem in Nigeria. Female reporters from countries as different as Brazil and Belarus report that lack of career perspectives, long hours, and bad pay have driven them to look for work outside journalism. In 1996 a study by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance in Australia found that 23 percent of women journalists had left their jobs because of promotional discrimination.

Women in top media positions remain a rare breed even though the number of women in journalism has been growing steadily. In 1991, a study by the International Federation of Journalists [IFJ] found that 27 percent of journalists were women; today they represent 38 percent of the profession, but there are large discrepancies among various countries. For example, the percentage of women journalists in countries such as Finland and Thailand is close to 50 percent, but in Sri Lanka and Togo, it is six percent.

A study published this year by the IFJ found that even though more than a third of today's journalists are women, overall they comprise less than three percent of media decision-makers. Their percentage is higher in North America and Latin America. In Mexico, for instance, 19 percent of media owners or editors are women. In Asia, the percentage of female media executives is the lowest and barely perceptible.

Female journalists still have to overcome many barriers if they want to reach their full potential in the profession. The list of obstacles is long and it is the same whether drawn up by women journalists in Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, Africa or Europe:

* Stereotypes: cultural attitudes expecting women to be subordinate and subservient and negative attitudes towards women journalists;

* Employment conditions: lack of equal pay, lack of access to further training, lack of fair promotion procedures, lack of access to decision-making positions, sexual harassment, age discrimination, and job segregation;

* Social and personal obstacles: conflicting family and career demands, lack of support facilities, and lack of self-esteem.

The stories of women journalists who make it to the top are often ones of personal struggle and sacrifice. But these pioneers do inspire younger women to follow in their footsteps.

"Without Najma Babar I would not have stuck with journalism," says Beena Sarwar, editor of The News on Sunday in Pakistan. "She was my role model when I started at The Star in 1982. She was not only a real professional but she also put women's issues on the news agenda. Without her, the story of trafficking of women from Burma and Bengal would never have been covered."

Angela Castellanos, a freelance journalist from Colombia, observes that "courageous women reporters have made real inroads into a profession characterized by machismo. But we have paid a high price for recognition. Last year, two female journalists were killed, 11 were threatened with murder, three had to seek exile abroad, and one was kidnapped and tortured." That journalist was Jineth Bedoya, a 27-year-old journalist working for El Espectador who was kidnapped, tortured and raped by paramilitary groups. …

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