Columnists

African women change narrative

CATHERINE Mumba.

Analysis: CATHERINE MUMBA
AS A woman, one of my greatest desires is to see other women succeed and subsequently contribute to the development of the country.
I am happy that Government recognises the fact that women are the backbone of development and has included them in its development agenda.
For example, Zambia currently has a female Vice-President, Inonge Wina, who is performing her duties so well and has continued to serve as an inspiration to other women.
Other key positions such as Director of Public Prosecutions, Chief Justice and Minister of Finance are also held by women. It is also gratifying to see the number of female Members of Parliament increasing.
In all these achievements, the media has played a key role by publishing stories of women who are willing to take up the mantle of leadership and those who are already holding high positions of authority.
However, my concern is that the media has somehow left out the stories of women who are in the background and not in leadership.
Stories published in the media about ordinary women in communities are usually about them being victims and not victors.
This has partly contributed to girls growing up with a notion that females are a weaker gender and should always be inferior to men.
As a result, they grow up already limited in their thinking and that is what contributes to girls, especially, in rural areas, dropping out of school because they believe it is meant for men.
I was privileged to have been among 20 African journalists who were selected to attend a four-day training workshop on gender sensitive reporting.
The workshop was organised by the United Nations (UN) Women under the ‘African women changing the narrative’ programme.
The workshop was held in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, simultaneously with the ministerial consultative meeting on the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62).
The training of journalists in gender sensitive reporting was influenced by the fact that for decades, African women have been portrayed negatively in the media.
The UN Women is equally concerned that African women are almost always objectified, victimised and sometimes connected to irrelevant topics that further portray them as helpless and non-actors when it comes to decision-making.
It notes that the stereotypical narrative has been developed for centuries and ingrained in the mindsets of people, including women.
So the training workshop was aimed at equipping journalists with skills that will enable them to focus on inspirational stories that bring out the strengths and successes of various women in society.
I agree with the observation of the UN Women because despite the fact that we have seen an increase in the number of positive stories being published about women, negative ones still dominate.
The training was timely and beneficial in that what people read or see in the media is what sticks to their minds.
It is high time journalists stopped only covering stories of women being abused, used and victimised in society, but concentrate on bringing out stories of African women who are changing the narrative.
For example, we have so many single mothers in Africa, and Zambia in particular, who have strived and sacrificed everything they have to raise their children.
There is no place you can visit where you will not hear a testimony of how someone made it big because of the efforts of their mother. Isn’t that all inspirational news?
The success of women should not only be measured by them managing to have an education and getting into high positions of authority, but also by the sacrifices they make for the people around them.
Women in rural areas also play a key role not only in sustaining their families but also in contributing to the food basket of the country. They are the pillar of rural development because most of them spend their lives farming just to ensure that their families do not starve.
It is unfortunate that the stories of women living in rural areas have remained untold. We have a lot of female heroes who are impacting society on the grassroots and it is sad that nothing has been heard about them.
I believe that bringing out stories about the achievements of women in rural areas and in various townships would be another way of empowering the minds of others to begin to have confidence in themselves.
We need not to underrate stories of ordinary women because they have the potential to help African women change the narrative. I remember interviewing a female waste picker who has been in the business for over 18 years.
Her passion for the job and the things she has managed to achieve from waste picking, which most people consider ‘dirty’, inspired me. I was so encouraged and I realised that what makes a good gender story is not always about writing on those who are in leadership positions.
There is nothing that is as interesting as reading about a common woman who has found fulfilment and impacted society through doing something which others consider to be low-graded.
So to the media, my appeal is for us to strive to bring out positive stories about ordinary women and help in changing the narrative for African women.
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail reporter.

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