By Flora Aduk
Flora Aduk a journalist living in Uganda, talks about her experiences of prejudice against women in her field.
From a young age, I have always had a strong sense of right and wrong. Being a woman in Uganda and Africa comes with it’s own challenges but I harnessed these and ultimately they shaped me and set me on a career path of journalism.
I am the Features Editor at the Daily Monitor newspaper, one of Uganda’s most popular dailies. Starting out, I dreamed of reporting on the front line, telling the stories that ultimately changed the world around me. Making a break in journalism has proved to be a battle of it’s own and while I may not be presenting the evening news bulletin, I have had unique insight into one of the toughest professions on the planet and the attitudes of the people within it.
One incident in particular sticks in my mind. A few years ago, I was in the company of a senior political reporter. Having just made his cup of tea, he proceeded to initiate small talk in the newsroom near my desk.
Instinctively, he asked me my thoughts about the Lord’s Resistance Insurgency in northern Uganda. It was a period where the LRA leadership led by Joseph Kony tried to launch peace talks with the Ugandan Government to end the war. It was the biggest story in the newsroom. Just as I was collecting my thoughts, (and I did have some especially given that northern Uganda is my home region and the war affected my extended family) he cut me short right there saying: “Or maybe you don’t bother with such things and are more into lifestyle, fashion and society.”
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I was shocked to say the least, my jaw actually dropped, but before I could even respond, he’d walked away. I have never forgotten that episode. I felt so humiliated and angry that I never went for a confrontation. How dare he? I kept asking myself. I however, let the incident go because from my judgement he didn’t seem the kind to understand what was wrong with what he had said.
And that is how things work when it comes to stereotypes about women. These prejudices are so ingrained in society that we come to dismiss them and ultimately ignore them. Stereotypes drive me crazy and attitudes such as these continue to reinforce them.
Carol, a colleague at my workplace pointed out the same thing in her column, a few weeks ago. Her take, that I totally agree with, is ‘I shall not pretend that only a few people think and believe that women are inferior to men. But that doesn’t mean it is right. We need to let people know the damage these attitudes cause and how it incites the oppression of women of all generations.’
Women walk through paths paved with these stereotypes throughout their entire lives and there’s no doubt about the effects they have on self-esteem and the suffocation of opportunities. Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggests that gender stereotypes have a lasting detrimental impact on those who experience the prejudice.
In my career, I have been exposed to stereotypes about women in media and witnessed many young women cut or change their career paths because of it. In reporting news, the official rhetoric is that gender is irrelevant to the practice or profession. However in practice, especially in the fields considered hard news, such as politics, business and science, we see mostly male reporters and contributors. The reality is the majority of women remain in ‘soft’ news journalism, reporting on human interest stories, style features, in a magazine format.
Karen Ross states the journalistic profession is in a ‘catch 22’ situation, while women continue to dominate the soft news spheres, such as fashion, lifestyle, and cookery, it is ultimately more difficult for women to break into the hard news spheres. With a lack of female role models in hard news naturally women will continue to gravitate to the soft news roles and the cycle continues. (Women at Work: Journalism as an endangered practice. Journalism Studies Volume 2, Issue 4, 2001)
Female journalists are subject to gender discrimination even at the assignment level of stories, as editors will prefer to send male journalists to cover stories focused on war or conflict. I for one believe we shouldn’t allow society to remain stuck in these stereotypes. I don’t know if giving that reporter a piece of my mind would have changes his outlook, but I think the least women deserve is an opportunity to prove otherwise. We are more than just a stereotype.