The theme for International Women's Day 2019 is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. The hashtag is #BalanceforBetter. Major African cities are holding different events to raise awareness about gender equality and the importance of giving women a fair chance to be part of development.
In Nairobi the Kibera Slum is where Kenyans are asking what #BalanceforBetter means for secondary school girls living in the area. Women who are actively disrupting the status quo are providing answers to this question with inspiration for about 350 girls.
Other Kenyans will be at the Wilson Airport, also in Nairobi. Here an all female flight to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve will be facilitated by female air controllers and finally guided to land on the tarmac by a female marshaller.
In Lusaka, Zambians will be singing up a storm in a karaoke night to prove that balance is not only a women issue but a human issue.
Nigerians in Abuja took a symbolic 3 km walk today. The Helpline foundation collaborated with the OnomEse Foundation and networking and resource group, Women in Male Dominated Industries, to demonstrate that women can match the strength men pound for pound. The walk is a means to send a strong message: from now on Nigerian girls and women will work with their male counterparts as equal partners in building a better society for the West African society.
International Women's day is about celebrating achievements and the impact of women's contribution to society. Not so long ago women and girls were relegated to an inferior role in society. Too many barriers have been put in the way of them pursuing their aspirations say developmental experts. Despite all the man-made obstacles women have achieved feats whose perennial impact shapes how the future will develop.
Two Key Women’s interventions that shaped how we experience media
Very little about what we see as development or innovation today would have evolved without computers. This holds through even for countries trying catch up with the rest of the developed world - those countries are digitizing fast and computers there is growing access to personal computers.
Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 - January 1, 1992)
Without the pioneering input of Grace Murray Hooper might not be where they are. She was key in developing the technology, programming language and eventually the first commercial electronic computer. Since then computers have been integrated into all imaginable industries and also designed to give users a personalised experience.
Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson (born August 5, 1946 - )
After Grace Murray Hopper, computers were still unable to accomplish much in a crucially important area for humans - communication. That was until Dr Shirley Ann Jackson instigated a renaissance in communications technology.
Dr Jackson is a theoretical physicist and her research in the late 70s and early 80s with subatomic particles has led to the emergence of many innovations in communications technology and other areas whose potential we are yet to exploit like solar energy.
In communications her research opened the way for the portable fax, touch-tone telephone and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting. Quite instrumental for the media and entertainment industry is her research’s contribution to the development of fibre optic cables.
One only has to look at the projections for the Telecoms, Media and Technology industry to see where these pioneering minds meet - big data and telecoms, two lucrative sectors that are redefining the way the global economy operates.
TMTFinance.com predicts that merger and acquisition activity in the telecoms, media and technology industry in Africa will surpass the $10 billion dollar-mark spurred by growing appetite from the global industry and investors.
The continent’s two large regional subsea cable giants, MainOne and SEACOM, have ambitious investment plans for Kenya and South Africa’s rapidly digitising economies.
Encouragement from the UN and SADC
Women making moves in male dominated sectors
There are many examples of women who are just guts and granite - they roll up their sleeves and take big industry by the scruff of the neck. In the heartland of mining South Africa is a woman whose choice has been to go against the grain.
Tebogo Mashego shows a will of steel in closed, male-dominated big industry
Mining and the metal industry are industries dominated by big players - multinationals whose net worth easily matches the Gross Domestic Product of some African countries. Arcelormittal’s net worth was at $14.5 billion, more than double Malawi’s annual GDP which was $6.89bn in 2018.
This hasn’t stopped Tebogo Mashego from seizing the opportunity to show that women can make their mark in industries that are pervasively male dominated.
She was honoured by OkayAfrica in 2018 for establishing 100% woman owned and managed Ditsogo Projects that specialises in steelworks fabrication and also works other metals such as Aluminium.
Ditshego Properties is based in the mining town of Rustenburg north west of Pretoria where they manufacture a wide range of steel products. Mashego says the steel industry is where women should be if they want to make an impact.
“Women are nation builders and by tapping into these highly lucrative industries they will reduce poverty, invest in educating children and creating sustainable jobs. This will have a positive impact on the economy,” Ditshego said.
What stands in the way of girls and women making a real impact in society is not cast in stone - many of them can certainly be corrected, but only if there is a determined will. The media and entertainment industry is no exception.
FRAY.NEWS research has discovered three weaknesses of the media industry
1. Obscurity of women in news
Some media has a pervasively silencing effect on women as actors who participate in building democracy, development and shaping the future. A typical example made by West Bank based Women Media and Development is that even in human rights issues they have been relegated to an obscure role in the media.
In 2017 Palestinian women had zero voice in news about peace negotiations or the invasion of the Gaza Strip as there was not a single women's source quoted in news stories.
2. Close the gender pay gap and involve women in key decision-making
Media organisations are not rewarding women in media based on their real worth. Women in media are becoming experts, better educated and more experienced but what this doesn’t reflect in what they earn compared to their male counterparts.
In Southern African newsrooms men earn 23% more than women according to The Glass Ceiling Report published in 2018. The same study found that the number of women in media organisation boards has shrunk from 38% in 2009 to a measly 19% in 2018.
3. Decisive action needed against harassment and cyber misogyny
The noise around sexual harassment and gender-based violence affecting women in the media industry is not enough. For one, threats against women journalists are getting more aggressive and increasingly include threats of sexual and emotional violence. For example, in the first week of March 2019, opposition party EFF social media featured comments about sexually assaulting women journalists.
What the #TimesUpNow movement has done, fundraising for legal fees that are used to pursue cases for women who have been sexually harassed and violated in the film industry, is a good starting point and can be pursued by the media and entertainment industry globally.