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Women in Africa need Better Support in Environmental Journalism

We wanted to know how best we could improve our support of African women environmental journalists. Here's what we learned.
We wanted to know how best we could improve our support of African women environmental journalists. Here's what we learned.

This year Climate Tracker, in partnership with Hivos, has launched an exciting media fellowship about sustainable energy in Africa. The fellowship aimed to empower journalists across Africa in telling in-depth stories focusing on a key Sustainable energy challenge facing their country.

The fellowship received an overwhelming amount of applications which showed the great interest among journalists in Africa to learn more about energy reporting. 11 inspiring journalists were selected and received extensive training on climate journalism along with grants to help them produce their stories. Despite the great engagement that we received from this fellowship, the number of female participants remained relatively low and only two female journalists made it to the final list of applications. 

In an effort to address this issue, Climate Tracker conducted an external evaluation for the fellowship. The evaluation looked into the methods used in the fellowship promotions, the selection process, and gathered insights from the female participants. One of the main recommendations from the study was to host a live event where, giving women journalists the opportunity to share their personal experiences, reflect on the challenges that face them in their countries and give recommendations for what international organizations such as Climate Tracker and Hivos should do in future projects. 

The Evaluation Study 

In the webinar, Moneera Yassin, the external evaluator for the fellowship program, shared some insights from her study. One of the main points Moneera mentioned was how the field of environmental journalism, specifically the sustainable energy field, are men dominated fields in Africa.

“This draws an opportunity to produce more research and piloting in understanding gender parities and looking more into how women can be better supported in this field” said Moneera

Some of the recommendations given by Moneera included the need for international organizations to train their staff about gender integration across the different projects, “the first step in gender integration is the willingness to understand and address the issue”. This will allow organizations to be more conscious of the different gender elements when designing their projects in the future. Moneera also emphasized on the importance of capitalizing on the already existing network of African women which could inspire more women to join the field and create meaningful collaborations. 

Hearing directly from women 

Following Moneera’s presentation, two women journalists who took part in the Sustainable Energy Fellowship were invited to share their personal experience and give their recommendations. Jennifer Ugwa, a freelance investigative journalist from Nigeria, talked about the stereotypes of Nigerian women, promoted by media.

Women are actually regulated on the ‘soft beats’ reporting roles, It is assumed that in a newsroom women can report on human rights, art and fashion but the idea of a woman reporting on environmental issues or energy issues is often not in the picture.

As Jennifer also mentioned, there is also the issue of limited reporting funds and the lack of mentorship for female environmental journalists in the country. Jennifer believes that in order to address the current challenges facing women journalists we need to do the opposite of everything that we are doing right now. There needs to be more capacity building opportunities for women, more journalistic roles in environmental coverage should be assigned to women because this will inspire others as well. 

Diana Taremwa, a freelance journalist from Uganda, mentioned that women journalists in Uganda are also mostly assigned to work on ‘soft news’. The lack of flexibility from newsrooms is one of the main challenges that Diana has faced.

I once worked for a media company where you are given only 2 months maternity leave, can you imagine that? In addition, sexual harassment and sexualization is also a major concern for women journalists in Uganda. There was a time I had to cover a story at the Parliament of Uganda and I was wearing a skirt above the knees. I was denied entrance into parliament because apparently I wasn’t dressed appropriately. Later I found out that the reason they don’t allow women in dressed up like that because they believe it is going to entice the legislators.

A Success Story 

In order to also reflect on some of the success stories among women journalists, Climate Tracker invited Janet Njunge, an environmental journalist and an editor from Kenya who worked with some of the biggest media outlets in the country and is now a Chevening scholar studying Media and International Development at the University of East Angila. 

“Most of the challenges mentioned by the speakers are challenges that I have gone through. It cannot be solved with a snap of finger and it needs a lot of lobbying and pushing for change,” Janet shared her personal experience as a journalist in Kenya and how she managed to overcome the challenges that faced her. One of the main points highlighted by Janet was the lack of environmental awareness among editors.

Training women journalists and not training the editors creates a gap because the journalists understand what they are writing about but once they send it to the editor it can get changed in a way that distorts some of the facts.

“The good thing is that there are opportunities for women journalists if you are consistent in what you are doing and if you make the stories matter”. In order to create impactful stories, Janet recommended that her fellow women journalists should try and link energy and environmental issues with the ‘soft topics’ that they usually work on. She believes that she was able to receive the Chevening Scholarship, which is offered by the UK Government, because she managed to clearly illustrate the current gaps in the media field in Kenya and the development areas that she can work on. 

Overcoming The Challenges 

The closing session of the webinar focused on hearing from women journalists about how they’ve managed to overcome the challenges that they face in their work. Shola Precious, a female journalist from Zambia, also mentioned similar challenges that women journalists face in Zambia.

The climate journalism field is male dominated and that brings with it society norms and cultural limitations that drives this nation on inequality in this area and makes it more like a natural concept. For example in Zambia high impact climate change stories are seen as the jurisdiction for male journalists.

Lydia Nyawira, a correspondent at the Standard Media Group in Kenya and a Climate Tracker alumni, talked about why she covers climate stories and the importance of using her platform to give other women a voice.

I find it important to discuss the concept that only politics and sensational news sells. I think environmental stories will sell if we make it important for people to understand that these stories matter not just to a small niche of people but to all of us.

Lydia also talked about her personal experience and how she managed to overcome the challenges in her work.

“I never gave up, you have to be persistent… You are only as good as your last story so don’t just look back into what you have accomplished but also look into what you can accomplish and who you can impact with your story.” 

Lina Yassin
Middle East and North Africa Program Manager. In 2016 became the youngest Sudanese climate journalist to publish in a national newspaper. Working from Sudan, at least when they don't have blackouts.