Insightful. Life changing. Uplifting. These were just some of the adjectives that nearly 200 attendees used to describe the inaugural session of the ‘WIN Media Lounge’, an initiative of the World Association of News Publishers’ (WAN-IFRA) Women in News programme in Africa.
The Media Lounge, a mentorship initiative, was launched on 3 September, 2021, through an online event that took the format of ‘fireplace’ storytelling. This was inspired by the idea that in the African region, storytelling is woven into the fabric of cultures across the continent, and evokes a sense of community, bonding and knowledge sharing.
The initiative, which will hold two-hour sessions every quarter, will complement WIN’s existing coaching and career training programme, the Leadership Accelerator. The Lounge seeks to connect young women journalists across Africa with their more experienced colleagues, providing a space to share personal stories and allowing for intergenerational learning.
“Women journalists in Africa face myriad problems, from sexual harassment to not getting equal opportunities. The Media Lounge offers a safe space where we address barriers to career growth. We’re building a community of women who look out for each other, where we walk together and ensure we rise and realise dreams,” explained Jane Godia, WIN Africa Director, at the launch.
“Mentorship offers the opportunity for women journalists to gain skills, grow their network and view their workplaces as stepping stones to career growth.”
Making a presentation on the State of Women in Media, Barbara Kaija, New Vision Editor-in-Chief and WIN Global Steering Committee Member, said women remain underrepresented in stories as sources or experts, in the newsroom and in management. As a result, the industry can feel very lonely for young women trying to figure out their place in a male-dominated space.
“For every woman who stays in the newsroom, there is someone who encouraged her to do so. We need to encourage women to stay because if they don’t, their stories won’t be told. This is what the Women in News Media Lounge aims to achieve by offering role models who can share their stories of growth and inspire those who come after them,” said Kaija.
A key highlight of the platform is the ‘Her Story’ segment, and the inaugural segment was graced by Rose Kimotho, a media practitioner and entrepreneur with more than 25 years of leadership and management experience. Through a session moderated by Susan Makore, WIN Advisory Manager for Africa, Kimotho reflected on the obstacles that were placed in her path and how she overcame them to launch mega media brands.
“My first impression walking into a newsroom was shock — it was a very male-dominated space. I walked in with a male colleague. He was immediately assigned a political story. I got the soft assignment. That was my first encounter with gender discrimination,” Kimotho said, speaking about her introduction to the newsroom in 1978.
“There was no reason to give me the soft assignment since my male colleague and I had walked in together, and had left school for the newsroom with the same qualifications.”
Kimotho fought back against the stereotypes and attempts to cast her in one way because she was a woman. And because she dared to take on what may have been thought to be impossible, she became a trailblazer in the industry and revolutionised local language reporting across TV and radio. Kimotho is today the founder and managing director of Three Stones Limited, which operates a local language TV station.
Addressing the issue of working for little or no pay, she advised: “People will value you depending on the value you put on yourself. If you allow people to treat you badly, they will. When you peg your worth low, that’s how people will value you. Women have to push themselves; don’t expect things to land on your laps.
“Women are taught to play fair. Rising can be equated to being a betrayal of the gender, and others might resent you for rising ahead of them. Men don’t have that restriction. It’s about understanding this psyche. Too many women are dealing with the imposter syndrome and need a lot more belief in themselves. That’s why the WIN Media Lounge is an important space. You need to hear that you can push yourself, that you’re enough and that you’re capable.”
The high-energy, interactive session offered evidence of WIN Executive Director Melanie Walker’s sentiments of the event: “Looking around this virtual room, I see the power we have within us to change the status quo and address the gaps in the media industry. The sisterhood of African women has a legacy of mentorship, and for us to be able to bring this back is an incredibly powerful opportunity. I hope you will lean on to this opportunity.”