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Getting in the mood for the event, KAS hosted a Facebook Live Discussion on “Why media matters in advancing gender equality” in the early afternoon, starring NTV news anchor Josephine Karungi in discussion with Media Consultant Rosebell Kagumire and Rebecca Rwakabokaza of Mon Pi Mon Uganda. In front of a live audience on Facebook, the women talked about the importance of discussing gender equality and of balancing male and female sources in news reporting. Asked what change they would like to see in the media landscape, Rosebell highlighted the need for a more gender conscious society while Rebecca expressed her wish to see more in-depth research being conducted.
A few hours later, the public dialogue event in the KAS office gardens was beautifully opened by the singer Akello with a touching Acholi love song. KAS Country Director Mathias Kamp welcomed the guests and panelists, urging the media to lead by example: “The media should be the most progressive. Media shouldn’t be at the level of an eighty year-old man in the village.” He expressed his happiness at having an all-female panel for the discussion in order to “counter the all-male panels everywhere.” Rosebell Kagumire, Media Consultant and co-initiator of the #womeninmediaug campaign shared some insights on her motivation to start the campaign out of the realization that there were “so many unanswered questions”. She told the story of how she was sexually harassed as a young intern in a media outlet and how she and her female coworkers weren’t allowed to cover hard stories, instead being sent to the features desk. She closed her remarks by calling for action to induce a change: “It doesn’t matter how much noise we make online if we can’t transcend it offline.”
Rosebell’s remarks were followed by a spoken word performance by KAS programme officer Donnas Ojok who, as a tribute to the domestic worker employed in his house, addressed the plight of domestic workers in Uganda as “A Pillar Unseen”, saying that “we let them work like bulls in the farm - Yet we don't let them eat the beef from the bull.”
Following this touching performance, Dr. Malina Guloba, Research Fellow at the Economic Policy Research Centre, set the scene for the discussion with a keynote speech on Insights and Status of Ugandan Women in the Workplace. Using key statistics, she painted a picture of the inequalities present in the Ugandan workspace: Men in top position are twice as many as their female counterparts while there is an average of a 100% wage gap between men and women in Uganda today. “We are the lowest of the lowest in the chain”, she stated, pointing out that employed women earn less irrespective of their education status. She also offered some insights on drivers of discrimination within occupation, the impact of women participating in the workforce and the perception of women leaders, concluding with the observation that the media often portrays women as sexual objects.
The panel discussion took off from here. Moderator Josephine Karungi opened the panel by asking the participants to introduce themselves and state if they were working in an environment conducive to women. Halima Athamani shared the story of how her daughter would cry every day at having to get up so early due to her mother’s inflexible work hours, after which she decided to put her daughter first and quit her job: “Now I’m a freelance journalist and my daughter and I are happy people.” Picking up from a point that had been brought up in Dr. Guloba’s presentation, the panelists then discussed the topic of women not being hired because of the possibility that they are or may become pregnant. Rukh Shana Namuyimba, journalist at NBS TV, observed that because of this reasoning, “women have to work twice as hard because they constantly have to prove themselves.” Dr. Guloba reminded her co-panelists of the high unemployment in Uganda, concluding that women in Uganda need to be “versatile and pragmatic – don’t be too rigid, the economy is too competitive and the workplace too narrow. You can easily be replaced.” This was, however, countered by the Executive Director of Akina Mama wa Afrika, Eunice Musiime, who argued that “we sell ourselves too short if we say that we shouldn’t fight for gender equality because unemployment is so high.”
Bringing the media perspective into the discussion, Josephine Karungi asked the panelists if the Ugandan media was equipped to handle these stories about gender discrimination. Oxfam communications specialist Patience Akumu was of the view that Ugandan media, much like the society, is gender blind: “We need to educate the media houses about gender consciousness and groom gender conscious journalists”, she demanded. Her co-panelist Halima Athumani shared insights on the difficulty of encouraging women to talk as female sources in news reporting. Meanwhile, Rukh Shana Namuyimba urged journalists to take charge themselves: “We need to move away from ‘we need to be empowered’ to ‘empowered by who?’ It’s our initiative as journalists – don’t wait for your savior.”
Asked about barriers that women still face in the workplace, Eunice Musiime stated that “the workplace is not a level playing field.” She and her co-panelists identified a number of barriers, ranging from deficits in girl child education to sexual harassment at the workplace. Picking up on the topic of sexual harassment, Patience Akumu shared her observation that cases of sexual harassment and abuse are not covered in depth by mainstream media, with tabloids tending to trivialize the issue and showing too little understanding for the woman’s perspective.
When the panel shifted their discussion towards the topic of domestic workers that had been raised by the spoken word performance earlier, Halima Athumani stated that many people do not regard domestic workers as human, “when we should actually treat them like our brothers and sisters.” Rukh Shana Namuyimba called out people who subject their domestic workers to HIV tests but protest the same treatment from their own employers after which Dr. Guloba pointed out that a large number of domestic workers are illiterate and urged people to take initiative to literate urban workers. Patience Akumu took a step back and reflected on the bigger picture: “Why are we as women asked about this topic?” She went on to state that the responsibility to manage domestic workers, as well as working on the stability of the family, should be shared between men and women.
As the debate on domestic workers came to an end, moderator Josephine Karungi took questions and comments from the audience. The first audience member to speak commented upon the hesitance to employ pregnant women: “If pregnant women are not denied their gardens in villages, why deny pregnant women their offices?” She was followed by a young man who complained about the panel not containing any male participants, arguing that men should be included in this discussion. This sparked a passionate response from another audience member: “You have all male panels discussing women all the time, now here you have a panel of highly qualified women and you ask for the men? Please, next time you have an all-male panel stand up and ask where the women are.”
A young female politician contributed to the debate about depiction of women in media by pointing out the sexualization of female politicians which leads to a trivialization of their issues and a focus on the dress and beauty of female MPs. A feminist in the audience argued for more women-friendly workspaces and for more solidarity and mentorship for women in the world of work: “We are brought up being told we just don’t belong to certain spaces. There aren’t enough women speaking up,” she said, “some women are just not confident enough and need a helping hand to help them gain confidence.” This was followed by a male audience member who urged women to come together and voice their rights. Regarding the quest to have female voices heard, a female audience member encouraged her fellow women to include men in their fight and to avoid putting other women down. A more policy-centered suggestion for solutions that focused on the ratification and implementation of international laws protecting women’s rights was also given.
With a final round of closing remarks by the panel the discussion was closed and the band took over, entertaining the audience and participants as food and drinks were served and the discussion was continued and reflected upon in private conversations.
The amount of interest shown by the audience also transcended into a high level of activity online. Throughout the event, the hashtag
was the number one trending topic on Twitter in Uganda. The discussion continued online on the following two days, with especially the topic of all-male and all-female panels being a contended focus of the debate. Overall, the public dialogue thus sparked a number of debates, both online and offline, that are expected to continue and evolve as more events of a similar nature follow.
For a detailed insight on the social media activity surrounding the event see the Storify Report.
Report compiled by: Miriam Engeler