By Nhau Mangirazi
HARARE- Mercy Munhamo (28) is a female freelance journalist who endured unending sexual advances in the newsroom from her male counterparts when she was fighting for her space in the media.
Out of frustration she opted out and is now doing consultancy for a small organization.
‘‘Majority of female journalists are suffering in silence over sexual abuse advances by male bosses. Freelancers (male or female) who have limited freedom over their working conditions are worst victims,’’ she recently confided.
Media advocate, Rashweat Mukundu said that there are high cases of physical, physiological, emotional, and sexual violence against female journalists that have seen diminishing numbers of practicing female journalists in Zimbabwe.
‘‘We have noted that while there is a significant number of female journalists trained at tertiary facilities, there is a disproportionate difference of those practicing in newsrooms. This is attributed to unfavorable working conditions as they feel unsafe as well as structural limitations due to promotions and desks that are more demanding like politics or business desks that are male-dominated,’’ said Mukundu.
Gender Media Connect, director, Abigail Gamanya agreed that sexual violence is rife in most newsrooms where women are the worst victims with few men being forced to be submissive.
‘‘Sexual harassment is affecting how women operate during Covid-19 lockdowns where many affected due to companies scaling down of operations.
‘‘We need to formulate better policies that must be implemented and monitored against violence on female journalists and women in general. Our policies must be user-friendly on reporting pathways on violence against women and how it can be addressed holistically,’’ Gamanya said.
Zimbabwe Women Against Corruption Trust (ZWACT) director Sandra Mutendere confirmed that women face violence in public places, politics, and workplaces including newsrooms.
‘‘Women in the media are usually abused by their male counterparts especially their seniors at work because of their dominance and power. Most of the newsrooms have men at the helm so it is difficult for women’s rights to be fully respected as their male counterparts use power to suppress them. Being at lower positions in the newsrooms also means these women earn less income,’’ she said.
Mukundu added that the worst scenarios are that those in power think young female journalists are ‘sexual objects’ even for powerful sources in newsgathering and to be promoted.
‘‘Our newsrooms do not have policies safeguarding the interests of women,’’ said Mukundu.
He added that there is a need to implement policies that may help female journalists.
‘‘It is important that when policies that protect gender equity must be implemented through capacity building for female journalists that they know and identify incidences of sexual harassment. Zimbabwe like the rest of the world is still suffering from these cases of attacks on female journalists and interns as they face unwanted sexual advances,’’ added Mukundu.
The Media Institute of Southern Africa (Misa-Zimbabwe chapter) chairperson Golden Maunganidze said the press freedom body promotes gender equity among its membership.
‘‘Sexual abuse is a sensitive issue that we have dealt with in confidence and we hope we will win through a holistic approach,’’ said Maunganidze.
Mutendere added that poor salaries are fueled by an abusive environment for females facing exploitation.
‘‘Female media students in work-related learning institutions are more vulnerable to abuse in the newsrooms as they rely heavily on the senior reporters and editors for better marks at the end of training. Their vulnerability is worsened by the economic hardships necessitated by Covid-19 lockdown measures as employers battle to pay their workers. The new media environment has exacerbated already existing problems of sexual harassment in newsrooms,’’ she said.
The organization recently carried out a survey on the impact of corruption on women and girls in Zimbabwe.
Female journalists were among respondents who said they were being bribed to write stories in a certain way that violates their ethics.
‘‘Others also said they were asked for sex in exchange for promotion or arising opportunities. Such cases are common in newsrooms but the victims fear victimization and fail to report. ZWACT will be working closely with women from various groups with the objective to strengthen their ability to demand justice after going through any forms of violence or abuse,’’ said Mutendere.
Bindura Women Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) chairperson Gillian Chinzete said they want to empower females in newsrooms.
‘‘As WCoZ, we engage in collective activism on issues affecting women and girls in Zimbabwe. Our central role is to provide a focal point for activism on women and girls’ rights by bringing females from diverse backgrounds to collectively advocate for the attainment and enjoyment of their rights including those in the media space who have endured the abuse,’’ she said.
The challenges faced come as Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in commemorating 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence from 25 November till 10 December.
Globally, nearly 1 in 3 women have been abused in their lifetime and in times of crises, the numbers rise, as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic and recent humanitarian crises, conflicts, and climate disasters.
‘‘Only 1 in 10 women said that victims would go to the police for help. While pervasive, gender-based violence is not inevitable. It can and must be prevented. Stopping this violence starts with believing survivors, adopting comprehensive and inclusive approaches that tackle the root causes transforming harmful social norms, and empowering women and girls. With survivor-centered essential services across policing, justice, health, and social sectors, and sufficient financing for the women’s rights agenda, we can end gender-based violence,’’ said the report.
Munhamo, like the majority of abused females in the media space, hopes that things will change for the better one day through a holistic approach by all players.