KAMPALA- Uganda, already grappling with high long-term unemployment, has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and an estimated 750,000 Ugandans have so far lost their jobs, according to the Finance Ministry. The crisis has not spared the young media industry either, with women journalists particularly affected, writes Gloria Laker Adiiki Aciro.
Women journalists were beginning to gain space and work on the same ground as their male counterparts when the coronavirus struck. Despite their critical roles in informing the public about COVID-19, women’s long journey to visibility has been set back, leaving both print and broadcast journalists either out of job or with a salary cut.
“Of course salary cuts demoralize, but this was bound to happen,” said Patience Aber, a journalist with the state-owned Vision Group.
Like in other African countries, the media women are young, working in a male-dominated field. Many are now being told ‘we no longer need your services’, rendering them jobless.
COVID-19 has led to fear, salary cuts, unbalanced reporting and limited funding. “In the line of duty you are exposed to the coronavirus and when you go home you are thinking, have I come back home with the disease, what will happen to my family?” said Jane Angom, the station manager Speke Fm in Gulu, a women’s community radio affiliated to Forum for Women in Democracy (FOWADE).
According to Angom, the economic and social impact on women journalists is deeper than one would imagine. Now Speak fm plans to purchase equipment and gadgets to aid mobile reporting. “Visualization is the way to go and providing reporting equipment will allow journalists to report from wherever they are and more efficiently than before,” said Angom.
Zabel Bridget is a freelance refugee journalist, now unable to cross-check her stories because aid agencies closed their offices due to COVID-19. Margaret Karungi has to complete work early and rush home before curfew time.
Angom is encouraging women journalists to uphold ethics despite the crisis “even in the presence of the pandemic, remain professional and do not overstretch. Do what you can within your means and take it as a personal responsibility to protect yourself and keep safe by following the health guidelines so that when you have kept pure and clean, you will not take to the family. It is a personal responsibility - how do I ensure that I keep safe for the sake of those that are close to me,” said Angom. “Personally, at home, we adopted a greeting of crossing your hand on the chest and we say ‘wakanda’ forever, there is no shaking of hands and I go straight to the bathroom to wash and disinfect my bag, then wash and hang my cloth on the wire line.”
There is, therefore, a need to support women journalists so they can tap new opportunities in online journalism.
To better themselves professionally journalists should take advantage of the online training and mentoring opportunities on offer, such as the WIN Accelerator and use the WIN network to build professional circles that go beyond borders. Collaboration may yield opportunities.
Gloria Laker Adiiki Aciro is a Ugandan WINner and award-winning journalist. She heads the Refugee and Migration Media Network and is also a media activist involved in supporting refugees and promoting Peace Journalism. Gloria covered the LRA conflict.