At least 30 female journalists drawn from over eight states of South Sudan converged in Juba to share their personal stories and the challenges they face while performing their journalistic duties in their various stations across the country.
The female journalists seized this rare opportunity to tell their personal stories as some of them spoke out against rigid editors who practice sexism and ageism while assigning roles to reporters in their daily morning editorial meetings.
A female journalist who preferred to be treated anonymously said at her community radio station, female journalists face rampant sexism and ageism during the assignment of roles. She also said they face sexual harassment prompting some of her colleagues to leave journalism.
“We are always assigned to cover soft story ideas,” a 25-year-old female journalist said. “Our editor used a segregating language that women cannot be assigned to cover hard stories. I consider this sexism. Sometimes, they also say I am too young to cover hard stories, this is ageism. Despite my skills and experience, I have been pressed down because of my age and gender. We have been perceived as weak gender and can’t be entrusted to cover hard political stories. We have also experienced sexual harassment when assigned to go to the field. It is not fair to look at us as sexual objects. FJN should find a way to investigate this,” she lamented.
Halima Gladys, a female journalist working for Voice of Freedom Radio in Magwi County, said some government officials looked down on some younger female journalists and preferred to be interviewed by male journalists, a matter she said hurt her in her career as a young female journalist.
“Government officials prefer to be interviewed by male journalists,” Gladys said. “I don’t know what is the problem with female journalists. As long as all of us are journalists, women also have a right to interview senior public figures. Female journalists should be given access to interview senior government officials, why not! We are trying to adapt to this situation but we appeal to Female Journalists Network to intensify its advocacy drive to change the narrative. We need equal rights in the media,” Gladys affirmed.
She appealed to FJN to set up clear plans that could help the female journalists cover the anticipated general elections effectively without hindrance.
In 2019, two female journalists were reportedly physically assaulted by an army officer while covering a news event at the SSPDF [South Sudan People’s Defence Forces] General Headquarters, in Bilpam, north of Juba city.
The incident attracted wide condemnation from the public and media advocacy organizations triggering an apology from the SSPDF leadership.
The army said in a statement, “It regretted the attack on two female reporters by its senior general.”
Ayen Achol Deng, a female journalist participating in the same event organized by FJN (the brainchild of AMDISS) which is supported by the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) attributed such inappropriate behaviors being practiced by some government officials to the impact of prolonged civil wars in the country, she went on to say, the cultures of South Sudanese do not encourage violence against women.
She, however, noted that some media managers tend to abuse their authority to subject female employees to sexism, ageism, and other negative gender vices such as sexual harassment that do not promote equal participation in nation-building. She advised women to identify allies to help improve their situation by strengthening policies and rules that disallow hate speech, sexual exploitation, and gender discrimination in society.
“It is very challenging for media practitioners especially women working for radio stations, magazines, and newspapers. Sometimes, male editors do not take female journalists seriously. The editors don’t trust that female journalists can go to military barracks to interview army generals. We have only very few female journalists who have defied this negative vice, for example, Maura Ajak who sometimes goes to cover hard stories at the army general headquarters. We are hoping to see change when FJN continues to do gender mainstreaming stories that create awareness. Change takes time but it is imminent,” Ayen said.
Aquilina Adhel, a female journalist in Northern Bahr-al-Ghazal State praised the people of her state for respecting female journalists, and on the other note, she lambasts some politicians for interfering with the media rights in her state.
“The people of Northern Bahr-al-Ghazal State respect female journalists. We have support from our community. Sometimes, when our radio goes off-air, they become concerned because it is the main source of information for them. But politicians are trying to interfere with media freedom,” Adhel stressed. “We are being censored by some politicians in the state. They feel unhappy when we play statements of other political leaders who are not from their party. They should understand the essence of the multiparty system where we are now. Media is an independent entity and it should not be disturbed” she added.
Stella Senya Santino, a female journalist in Yei River County said female journalists suffer challenges on a daily basis from rigid bosses who could be editors or station managers. She appealed to FJN to double its efforts to address these challenges ahead of the general elections next year.
“Some male station managers and editors don’t trust female journalists,” Senya said.“It is a challenge. Sometimes we have the zeal to take on hard stories but our craving for hard stories has been hindered even by some government officials. They think we are too young to report on hard stories. I am here in Juba to brainstorm solutions to these challenges,” she added.
At the closing ceremony, the Chairperson of the Female Journalists Network, Ms. Irene Ayaa Lokang said through sharing of experience, the members noted that sexual harassment of female journalists still exists and called for swift investigation into the claims.
“The members noted that the sexual harassment of female journalists is still a reality both in workplaces and in the field. The leadership of the FJN condemned in the strongest terms this fresh act of sexual harassment of female journalists by individuals within the media fraternity,” Ayaa said.
This rare General Meeting of the FJN was supported by the Norwegian People’s Aid [NPA]. The FJN members thanked the government, Media Authority, Access to Information Commission, and National Communication Authority for supporting their activities and appealed for continued support and collaboration.