Women in media in South Africa are rising but Cyber Misogyny is their new challenge

The much awaited 2018 Glass Ceilings study on Women in South African media houses is out. While there is an increase in the number of women occupying senior and top management posts compared to a similar research carried out in 2009, conversely there is a high increase of unskilled and semi-skilled female workforce in the media. There has also been a dramatic drop in the number of women who are board of directors in the South African media.

According to the report, there are now 46 percent of women in senior management posts compared to 35 percent in 2009 and 36 percent in top posts in 2018 from 25 percent in 2009. The women in the board of directors has declined by half, from 38 percent in 2009 to 19 percent in 2018. There is also decline of technical skilled female workforce from 51 percent in 2009 to 38 percent at present. Sixty percent of the female workforce is unskilled compared to 23 percent in 2009. Seventy- four percent are semi-skilled compared to 55 percent in 2009.

An executive summary of the report notes that the challenge for women in the South African media is becoming less about the numbers and more about the underlying sexism in the media with new threats like cyber misogyny. Gender Links describes cyber misogyny as “an ugliest form of sexism being used to try and silence media women”. It is worried that “cyber misogyny may just be emerging, but like the speed of the social media that spawned it, is guaranteed to spiral out of control if not addressed seriously.”

“There are young journalists afraid to speak out because they fear losing their jobs,” says Eye Witness News group editor in chief and chairperson of SANEF Mahlatse Mahlase in a speech to the Women in News Summit in Durban in 2017.

Sexual harassment is a daily reality for women in the media and it is not prioritised. The report notes that about 91 percent of media houses surveyed were dealing with sexual harassment cases. Sadly those interviewed were of the opinion that challenges such as race and financial concerns were given more attention than sexual harassment.

Encouraging is that a new breed of young media women asserting their rights. “The Glass Ceilings 2018 reflects both a feminist backlash and an increased anger and assertiveness by women in the media against sexism, which may be the result of the general zeitgeist of the times globally and nationally”.

Also featured in the report, is the fact that Black men are moving up the ranks at much faster pace than black women with the proportion of black men in top management in the media having doubled from 22 percent in 2006 to 50 percent in 2018. This is largely attributed to the old boys’ networks. As noted in the report the oldboys’clubs ‘work in subtle ways’. Women are excluded from the informal discussions which precipitate much of the decision taken by senior editorial management. This happens in bars, after work drinking sessions, etc. Despite the fact that women do most of the work in the newsroom they are overlooked for top positions because the men who do far less have time for self-promotion and networking which facilitates their entry into the top tier”.

Also worrying is the wage gap where women in South African media earn an average 23 percent less now compared to 17 percent in 2009. Only three media houses agreed to provide the wage data.

The 2018 study aimed to assess whether any progress had been made in the past 10 years since the last Glass Ceilings project. The study was done by Gender Links, South Africa National Editors Forum and the Media Development and Diversity Agency. A total of 45 community media, 13 private and one public media house, the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) were surveyed.

Genderlinks CEO Colleen Lowe-Morna speaking at the launch of the Glass Ceilings women in South African media houses 2018.

The study took place in the context of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development that calls for the mainstreaming of gender in all media laws, policies and training. It urges the media to achieve gender parity in media ownership and decision making as well as to give equal voice to women and men; challenge gender stereotypes and ensure balance and sensitivity in all coverage, especially that relating to gender violence.

Some of the recommendations by the report include the need for ownership of media by gender sensitive and aware women to influence the organisational behaviours, attitudes and practices and even the content that is produced.

Gender and diversity polices need to be revised to include women quotas that deliberately increase the participation of women, giving them the necessary training. Media companies need to ban sexism; deal with “mansplaining”which a term is used when men explain to women things they are well aware of.

Women should have the choice of leaning back and leaning in when ready, meaning women who are not ready to take promotions because they want to focus on family does not mean they would not want to be considered for higher positions in future.

There should be open spaces for women in the newsrooms to speak out; transparency on wages; creating parenthood time so that women are not discriminated against for taking time to attend to their children; stop making gender equality conversation peripheral.