I am happy to be in the midst of young people today. I am privileged to be among a generation that holds the key to a new Botswana, a generation of hope, a generation that understands its responsibility to shape our nation. I am happy that I can say I lived among you, I lived with you and I walked with you in this great journey to a new Botswana.
I know some of you used their very last bank reserves to be here today; there are friends in the audience who are nursing ill relatives but they still found a way to be here tonight; How fortunate we all should feel that men and women of the cloth left their congregations to be in our midst on this fine night. We thought this was going to be night for young people, but I see so much grey hair, it’s a blessing we can’t say no to. And to the owners of the night, the owners of this occasion, the young people of Botswana, I say thank you for honouring our date with you.
You made this effort to attend this occasion, I am certain, not because I am likeable, but because you share the concern of so many citizens about our nation’s unfolding political narrative. You worry if our system of governance, regardless of your political affiliation, has the capacity to offer you a set of choices on election day, not just choices but, pristine choices on whom you can elect or which party you can elect to lead this country in accordance with your vision, our vision or in accordance with our hopes.
A democratic system that works is one that is not only able to sustain regular free and fair elections, but also a system that guarantees that the pool from which voters will elect parties or leaders into Government is worthwhile or quality pool. It is not enough as a nation to say we have in our midst, capable men and women of integrity if our system suffocates them, and does not allow them to come forward and be available for a vote into Government. Such a system or country that starves ordinary people or voters of credible leaders/parties from which they can choose is no different from a tyrannical system of Government. It means only the rogues will always be the ones running Government, and the people’s vision will burn into ashes.
We need a system that brings out the best and brightest from hiding, a system that allows them to step forward and be available for elections so ordinary people can enjoy their right to choose capable leaders into office. Such a system needs much more than nurturing by one institution, it needs the active participation in the political process of young people.
It needs you to step forward, it needs you share your ideas, it needs you to attend meetings with others, it needs you to learn from others and teach others, it needs you to contribute money and talent to gatherings like this one, it needs you to suggest, groom and nominate potential leaders. It needs you to offer yourself for roles. In so doing, you become the eyes and ears of our nation; you begin to see what many may not see at that moment; and regardless which party you belong to if any, this nation benefits because it will be people like you that guarantee that the ordinary voters can choose from the best people on election day.
Many of our citizens are alarmed that a political party, the BMD of the UDC, that holds such immense promise, is tearing itself apart, and returned from an elective Congress in Bobonong, last month, with two parallel sets of leadership committees. Many of you know that this is not workable and are embarrassed by it. Some of you have listened to radios and read from the press how our great movement has become the skunk of our nation. Our actions and conduct have represented everything that can go wrong in the democratic experiment. Analysts and pundits have dug in the annuls of history and have tried to interpret what the unfolding narrative means or signifies not only about the BMD or the UDC but what it means about the future of Botswana. The perceptions and circumstances at the BMD have generated confusion, disillusionment, mistrust and doubt about whether our nation can achieve the change that we all so desire.
More important than the perceptions, the actual unfolding of events, tactics and behavior within the BMD has revealed that we have and have had in our midst men and women who at best do not believe in the change that we all say this country needs, men and women whose lack of belief causes them to work against every effort to present this country with the type of pristine choice of leaders from which citizens can choose/elect on national election day. This alone is a travesty, it is a tragedy for this is part of the vision that we share we so many citizens, that our movement will be one of the minting pots that will offer this nation a spoil of choice from which to elect leaders that will assist precipitate change.
The painful reality is that the current configuration of and climate within our movement is not requisite to precipitating, currently, the type of change that this country needs. We cannot have the moral authority and force to change and tidy up the Government should we be in Government if we ourselves still have to deal with an endemic and systematic cancer that is fast eroding our commitment to clean governance. The current impasse at BMD is not a traditional difference of opinion or a contest of ideas or ideology; it is not a traditional competition among leaders for leadership roles.
The current situation at the BMD is much deeper than meets the naked eye of a bystander. There is no need to go into these depths, for we have a conviction that the truth has a way of surfacing, the truth has a way of permeating through tiny walls, at the right time. The BMD situation is about justice, and I have chosen the side of justice, we have chosen justice. Call me what you wish as some do – a faction leader, a warlord or by whatever name – I am not moving from the side of justice. We choose justice because this is our conviction. We choose justice because there will be no change in this country without a commitment to justice.
We choose justice because without it this country will never be able to offer its best and brightest for political office, we need to advance our best people forward to citizens can be spoilt for choice, so they can choose from among men and women of substance who can bring about change. From the side of justice I am unmoving, I am unbending, I am unshaking, I am unwavering, I am unflinching, I am unchanging.
So we need to make decisions, we need to do that fairly, we need to do that wisely, we need to do that soberly, all on the side of justice, so our system can reach a higher level of offering its best people, so our democratic process can function well. This is why we can never impose ourselves – all we can do is to ensure we do our best to give Botswana and make available the best among us. There is a saying the enemy does not care about who you are, the enemy worries more about what you will become. And today I have come to say to you, we need to protect what we will become, for we are going to become a Government of great vision and delivery.
I am not here to give answers to all these questions, I am also here to apologize to the families whose children were injured at our congress, and to the teachers, students of Matshekge for contaminating their reputation. I am here to apologise to Kgosi Dimakatso of Bobonong village for our conduct, and its not about who is to blame and who is not, the buck always stops with the leader, the reason for which I take full responsibility not just for the events leading to, at and after our BMD congress. I travelled this past weekend to Bobonong, to see Kgosi, the school and tender my apology. I also visited the police to thank them, but we are not done with that as we still have to see so many other people and the community.
To the people of Botswana, I understand just how much aching it brings to your hearts to see before you a dream for a new Botswana melt and how let down you must feel. And for this I hope you will forgive me. Yet despite these austere and seemly bleak circumstances, the hope in me has risen more than it has ever before, that a new Botswana is possible, that a new Botswana is within reach. So I am here not only to apologise but also to tell you that I have an immense sense that something special is happening in and to this nation. There is something stirring..
Just to take you back, over five decades ago, the best among our grandfathers gathered to consider a constitution of what would be the new Botswana. They dreamt of and hoped for a nation independent of political control from abroad. They aspired to plough seeds on the soils of the crop of freedom, justice, and the opportunity to prosper materially and in the spirit. And although the money vaults were too barren to finance the running of even the smallest Government machinery they still believed in their future; even though there was no army to protect our vast ploughing fields, our beautiful wild animals, our deltas and our salt pans – even though we did not share in the fortune of mineral discoveries that so many countries around us swam in – even though many of our people wallowed in poverty, their children with no prospects of a good education or a good livelihood – Our grandparents still believed they were onto a new country, and despite the insurmountable obstacles they were driven, and filled with the belief of a prosperous Botswana
And in some ways they achieved some of what was their dream. And in some ways they surpassed what some may have imagined. But that doesn’t mean that what constituted their vision and hopes is what forms our own vision and hopes. Our hopes are our own. They are inspired by our own unique life experience, and by the basic life principle that every generation must do better than the generation before it. Every generation has the obligation to mend the lapses of the past, and every generation should see further and better than the one before it, because they stand on the shoulders of their fathers. This is why we believe our nation can do better, much better; we can do much better as people and as a nation.
We gather here today, to affirm that we stand on the cusp of change; Like eagles, we are being thrust onto the path ahead, pushed by a wind of change. We believe we are due for a new style of governance, a government that listens attentively to the people, a government led by competent men and women of principle. A government that is quick to act on decisions, a Government that is effective, clean and accountable. This is a Government we yearn for, because without such a Government, our dreams will remain unrealized.
Why do we need such a Government. We need such a Government because such a Government is a necessary spice to true change and prosperity. We need such a Government because our people are tired of a Government that buys fighter jets, grippens, at the expense of financing projects that could transform the lives of our people. We need a new Government because the current one cannot account for major expenditures, they say for security reasons.
We need a new Government because the current one is not able to manage large national, potentially transformational projects. We need a new Government because the current BDP-led Government alienates talented citizens, chocking their creativity, including their own. We need a new Government because the current Government is suspicious of genuine investors, it’s a Government that denigrates workers, a Government that conceals truths about injustices, A Government with secret service that runs the Government behind the scenes by fear and intimidation.
We need a new Government that is fair in all its affairs, a Government that cultivates the idea and belief in everyone that they can become anything they aspire to be under the sun. We are that Government in waiting. We can and we will become that Government of change. We know we are on the cusp of new beginning, so close, because we offer you capable young and old leaders, but these leaders are being hidden behind the smoke of current impasse. We will clear that smoke and ensure that they come forward without any man-made hindrances.
This is much more than about the BMD of the UDC. It is about our consciousness as a people, a dream, a vision, a way of thinking, a way of doing things. Moono. It transcends political parties, it is bigger than political parties. This is a consciousness that was inspired by activists and citizens from all walks of life and from within other political formations. If this consciousness sits with discomfort within the current configuration, we need to be decisive about how best to transfigure ourselves so that this consciousness for change thrives best and helps inspire the kind of Botswana we aspire.
We will never be defeated. “They say nothing real can be threatened. True Love breathes salvation. With every tear comes redemption. And your torturer becomes your remedy” The say we are warmongers. We need to fight for sure, and this war we must fight. But our fight should not be a fight of stones, or of bullets. Neither is it a fight of insults or of accusations. That kind of fight is not ours, we do not belong in it.
I know that some in our midst say, ahh your fight is about a high place in the echelons of your party, it is about dominance in your party, and it is even about a high place in the Government of 2019, should you win elections. No, this is not our fight. This is not our war. We fight for a new Botswana. We fight for our vision, the same vision of the Great Gomolemo Motswaledi, the vision of all fair-minded citizens. We fight to ensure we reach the shores of the great ocean that is the vast wealth of the minds of our people, the ocean whose depths hide minerals and treasures kept for our people, the ocean whose waters quench the thirst for social justice, the ocean whose salts nourish the collective creative talent and great leadership of all our people. We will fight for this new Botswana.
We fight to ensure that the voice of ordinary people that are not part of the main economic stream are heard, We fight for the pursuit of ideas and plans that will generate jobs of the vast swarms of people living without a job. We will never be defeated because we are on the side of justice, We stand with and for the truth.
If at any point there is confusion or doubts about what this is about, we may as well pack our bags and go home. If at any point we forget this vision, or we abandon our first and true love for our responsibility and mission to be conscience of this nation, then we just as well go home. But we cannot go home when so much work remains to be done. We cannot abandon our convictions because the weather is bad. If we do so we would not only have abandoned our movement. Worse, we would have abandoned our people. This we must not and cannot do.
Warmongers, no, we are not warmongers. We are warriors of justice. We are gallant foot-soldiers towards a new Botswana. We are warriors of our collective vision and dream. Better we fight for something, even if we are wrong, at least we stood for something. We may be wrong in what we believe, and we must never think we have the monopoly of the truth. Joshua fought in silence, with silence and faith. He focused, rounded a city, quietly, and on the seven days he and his people shouted. Silence for right passages of time is significant, it is a sign that there is ongoing work, it may not be visible to the eye. It means you understand that everyone will have his or her turn to speak and act.
In the same way, we must also do our work, our part, patiently, and at the right time take action, make decisions, decisively, collectively, no matter how painful. Every-time we meet, every time we come together like this, the skeptics are not happy, our detractors are not happy, those who refuse to allow change are not happy. They are not happy because they are afraid of your power when you come together. They are not happy because they realize what we can become, and what we can become and will become is what we must protect.
We need to learn to do things together, it doesn’t have to be a political rally, we need to learn to act together for the things we believe in. and today, you have once more shown why our faith is in you the young people of Botswana Back to the BMD impasse, we need to wait for UDC. We need to respect the UDC process and hope that when those charged with the responsibility meet, they will offer guidance. We believe first prize is a rerun of the elective Congress, to elect a leadership in a free and fair election. We cannot demand a free and fair elections from our system at the national level, and then fail as a political formation of the BMD to guarantee it at our level.
Our members are not convinced that the court option is viable. The time and material cost entailed will take away whatever energy we need to offer Botswana the best and brightest from among us, men and women that our nation can enjoy the right to choose from at the national elections, men and women that we are certain will assist transform this country. This is an opportunity we as people should not and must not miss.
I know there is talk of a new formation, a new party, and I must admit pressure is being mounted from different directions to embark on this option. Proponents of a new party advance many reasons to embark on such a journey, among them the need for a fresh home as dwelling place for this consciousness of change, a home unblemished and uninhibited by manmade obstacles, but this cannot and should not be our first option. We need to be patient, and give the UDC the opportunity to intervene before we can consider this or that options.
Some of these and our decisions whatever they are, will hurt. Our hearts will bleed, and we need to prepare for that. Whatever decision we make, we must make it because it is the right thing to do, it is on the side of justice and it will bring a new Botswana. We need to commit to meet as often as we can, in a meaningful way, at the appropriate fora, to partake in the decisions that will shape our future as a movement and as a people.
We need to tame our tongues, no matter how deeply we differ with those who do not agree with us. We need to understand that what we say and our behavior, if it is not appropriate, will repulse the very citizens for whom we say we are seeking a new Botswana. None of us should insult others no matter how violated we may feel. A lingering question will always be, how and why did we allow things to reach this stage at the BMD. Our country is on the verge of an extraordinary moment of change in history, and so our institutions, not only political institutions, not just the BMD, will face extraordinary circumstances, one way or the other. Many of this circumstances will be man-made, and forcefully so, by an invisible hand. This will happen more and more, the nearer we get to that extraordinary moment of change.
I know you will find what I am about to say difficult to swallow: things could have been worse, and one day that truth will become more self-evident. There is so much to be grateful for, and to be proud of: Our nation is now within reach of a wonderful change, precipitated by yourselves and by people like the late Gomolemo Motswaledi and the late Kealeboga Ramogobjua. Our country now knows change is possible, our people now have hope, even though it is momentarily dampened. Our country now knows we have capable young people who can lead given the chance. The Government of day now knows they have to think a little more before they embark on anything irresponsible. Let no one take away these, your achievements.
Things could have been worse. If you think about it, yes someone may succeed in stealing the paperwork of our movement, but no one will ever be able to take away our beliefs, your convictions, your vision. Some invisible hand may work to create smoke and the impression that you are terribly divided into two camps, when in fact there is so much unity of purpose, unity in consciousness and oneness in our vision. Some invisible hand may work to contaminate how we may appear or look like today and in the now, but they will never steal from us what we will become.
It’s a shame of course, because we had hoped to build the BMD of the UDC to become like a great university of the ages, a place that prepares talent for leadership and offers it to the citizens so they may make a choice at the national elections for subsequent Governments. Some of the great universities and political institutions are a hundred of more years old. So we are not too late, in fact we are still on time towards realizing this goal one way or the other.
Rumours abound of a plan, apparently my plan, to decamp to the ruling party. I am a servant of the people, I serve at the pleasure of the people as long as they think they need me to assist in their journey. What I cannot do is to walk away from the people, or step away from the side of justice.
Should the people say to me, you have done your part and we need a new set of people to advance our vision, then yes I would be happy to bow out but I am not yet sure if I would want to be a football coach or a rugby coach. I am in the company of great men and women – thank you to the Vice President Mmolotsi, Chairman Mokgware and Secretary General Butale and his deputy Moalosi. Thank you to the Women’s President Mothudi, President of the Youth Kelebeng, thank you to my parents in the movement, my branch chairman Segopolo , thank you to my political Secretary Mma Sibisibi, to the men that offer themselves to travel vast distances with me. Thank you for fighting for the vision of the people of Botswana.
Thank you to BOFEPUSO for understanding what standing on the side of justice means, thank you to you President Tshukudu, SG Rari and your deputy Motshegwe. Thank you to the MPs, the councilors, the branch and regional chairs. Thank you to the media that keeps us accountable, and that communicate our message whether we agree with them or not. Thank you to our lawyers Rantao and Chilisa, thank you to the passionate activists and loyalists of our movement and thank you to the men and women out there who are patient with us and encourage us to reach that new Botswana.
We will never be defeated. “They say nothing real can be threatened. True Love breathes salvation. With every tear comes redemption. And your torturer becomes your remedy” I end with a prayer adapted from a prayer by Martin Luther King: Lord, we are confronted with the appalling fact that the history of our lives is the history of an eternal revolt against you. But thou, O God, have mercy upon us. Forgive us for what we could have been but failed to be. Give us the intelligence to know your will.
Give us the courage to do your will. Give us the devotion to love your will.. God remove all bitterness from our hearts and give us the strength and courage to face any disaster that comes our way. God grant that we wage the struggle with dignity and discipline. May all who suffer oppression in this world reject the self-defeating method of retaliatory violence and choose the method that seeks to redeem. O God, make us willing to do your will, come what may. Increase the number of persons of good will and moral sensitivity. Give us renewed confidence in nonviolence, patience, wisdom, oneness and the way of love as taught by you.
BMD President, Ndaba Gaolathe delivered this speech at a meeting of young people at Maitisong Hall in Gaborone on Thursday.
This is a question that should seriously exercise the mind of every Botswana citizen and every science researcher, every health worker and every political leader political.
The Covid-19 currently defines our lives and poses a direct threat to every aspect and every part of national safety, security and general well-being. This disease has become a normative part of human life throughout the world.
The first part of the struggle against the murderous depredation of this disease was to protect personal life through restrictive health injunctions and protocols; the worst possibly being human isolation and masks that hid our sorrows and lamentations through thin veils. We suffered that humiliation with grace and I believe as a nation we did a great job.
Now the vaccines are here, ushering us into the second phase of this war against the plague; and we are asking ourselves, is this science-driven fight against Covid-19 spell the end of pandemic anxiety? Is the health nightmare coming to an end? What happy lives lie ahead? Is this the time for celebration or caution? As the Non State Actors, we have being struggling with these questions for months.
We have published our thoughts and feelings, and our research reviews and thorough reading of both the local and international impacts of this rampaging viral invasion in local newspapers and social media platforms.
More significantly, we have successfully organised workshops about the impact of the pandemic on society and the economy and the last workshop invited a panel of health experts, professionals, and public administers to advance this social dialogue as part of our commitment to the tripartite engagement we enjoy working with Government of Botswana, Civil Society and Development partners. These workshops are virtual and open to all Batswana, foreign diplomatic missions based in Gaborone, UN agencies located in Gaborone and international academic researchers and professional health experts and specialists.
The mark of Covid-19 on our nation is a painful one, a tragedy shared by the entire human race, but still a contextually painful experience. Our response is fraught with grave difficulties; limited resources, limited time, and the urgency to not only save lives but also avert economic ruin and a bleak future for all who survive. Several vaccines are already in the market.
Parts of the world are already doing the best they can to trunk the pestilential march of this disease by rolling out mass-vaccinations campaigns that promise to evict this health menace and nightmare from their public lives. Botswana, like much of Africa, is still up in the disreputable, and, unenviable, preventative social melee of masked interactions, metered distances, contactless commerce.
We remain very much at the mercy of a marauding virus that daily runs amuck with earth shattering implications for the economy and human lives. And the battle against both infections and transmissions is proving to be difficult, in terms of finance, institutional capacities and resource mobilization. How are we prepared as government, and as citizens, to embrace the impending mass-vaccinations? What are the chances of us succeeding at this last-ditch effort to defeat the virus? What are the most pressing obstacles?
Does the work of vaccines spell an end to the pandemic anxieties?
Our panellists addressed the current state of mass-vaccination preparedness at the Botswana national level. What resources are available? What are the financial, institutional and administrative operational challenges (costs and supply chains, delivery, distribution, administering the vaccine on time, surveillance and security of vaccines?) What is being done to overcome them, or what can be done to overcome them? What do public assessments of preparedness tell us at the local community levels? How strong is the political will and direction? How long can we expect the whole exercise to last? At what point should we start seeing tangible results of the mass-vaccination campaign?
They also addressed the challenges of the anticipated emerging Vaccinated Society. How to fight the myths of vaccines and the superstitions about histories of human immunizations? What exactly is being done to grow robust local confidence in the science of vaccinations and the vaccines themselves? More significantly, how to square these campaigns vis-vis personal rights, moral/religious obligations?
What messages are being sent out in these regards and how are Batswana responding? What about issues of justice and equality? Will we get the necessary vaccines to everyone who wants them? What is being done to ensure no deserving person is left behind?
They also addressed issues of health data. To accomplish this mass-vaccination campaign and do everything right we need accurate and complete data. Poor data already makes it very hard to just cope with the disease. What is being done to improve data for the mass-vaccination campaign? How is this data being collected, aggregated and prepared for real life situation/applications throughout Botswana in the coming campaign?
We know in America, for example, general reporting and treatment of health data at the beginning of vaccinations was so poor, so chaotic and so scattered mainstream newspapers like The Atlantic, Washington Post and the New York Times had to step in, working very closely with civil society organizations, to rescue the situation. What data-related issues are still problematic in Botswana?
To be specific, what kind of Covid-19 data is being taken now to ready the whole country for an effective and efficient mass-vaccination program?
Batswana must be made aware that the end part of vaccination will just mark the beginning of a long journey to health recovery and national redemption; that in many ways Covid-19 vaccination is just another step toward the many efforts in abeyance to fight this health pandemic, the road ahead is still long and painful.
For this purpose, and to highlight the significance of this observation we tasked our panellists with the arduous imperative of analysing the impact of mass-vaccination on society and the economy alongside the pressing issues of post-Covid-19 national health surveillance and rehabilitation programs.
Research suggests the aftermath of Covid-19 vaccination is going to be just as difficult and uncertain world as the present reality in many ways, and that caution should prevail over celebration, at least for a long time. The disease itself is projected to linger around for some time after all these mass-vaccination campaigns unless an effort is made to vaccinate everyone to the last reported case, every nation succeeds beyond herd immunity, and cure is found for Covid-19 disease. Many people are going to continue in need of medications, psychological and psychiatric services and therapy.
Is Botswana ready for this long holdout? If not, what path should we take going into the future? The Second concern is , are we going to have a single, trusted national agency charged with the mandate to set standards for our national health data system, now that we know how real bad pandemics can be, and the value of data in quickly responding to them and mitigating impact? Finally, what is being done to curate a short history of this pandemic? A national museum of health and medicine or a Public Health Institute in Botswana is overdue.
If we are to create strong sets of data policies and data quality standards for fighting future health pandemics it is critical that they find ideological and moral foundations in the artistic imagery and photography of the present human experience…context is essential to fighting such diseases, and to be prepared we must learn from every tragic health incident.
Our panellists answered most of these questions with distinguished intellectual clarity. We wish Batswana to join us in our second Mass-vaccination workshop.
Today is International Women’s Day – it’s a moment to think about how much better our news diet could be if inequities were eliminated. In 1995, when the curtains fell in one of the largest meetings that have ever brought women together to discuss women in development, it was noted that women and media remain key to development.
Twenty-six years later, the relevant “Article J” of the Beijing Platform for Action, remains unfulfilled. Its two strategic objectives with regard to Women and Media have not been met. They are Increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication
Promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.
Today, as we mark International Women’s Day, it’s an indictment on both media owners and civil society that women remain on the periphery of news-making. They cannot claim equal space in either the structures of newsrooms or in the content produced, be that as sources of news or as the subjects of reports. Indeed, the latest figures from WAN-IFRA’s Women in News Programme show just one in five voices in news belong to women*, be they as sources, as the author or as the main character of the news report.
Some progress was evident several years back, with stand-out women being named as chief executive officers, editors in chief, managing editors and executive editors. But these gains appear short lived in most media organisations. Excitement has turned to frustration as one-step forward has been replaced with three steps backwards. In Africa, the problem is acute. The decision-making tables of media organisations remain deprived of women and where there are women, they are surrounded by men.
Few women have followed in the footsteps of Esther Kamweru, the first woman managing editor in Kenya, and indeed sub-Saharan Africa. Today’s standout women editors include Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni (Nation Media Group, Kenya), Barbara Kaija (New Vision, Uganda), Mary Mbewe (Daily Nation, Zambia), Margaret Vuchiri (The Monitor, Uganda), Joyce Shebe (Clouds, Tanzania), Tryphinah Dongwana (Weekend Post, Botswana), Joyce Mhaville (Independent Television -ITV, Tanzania) and Tuma Abdallah (Standard Newspapers,Tanzania). But they remain an exception.
The lack of balance between women and men at the table of decision making has a rollback effect on the content that is produced. A table dominated by men typically makes decisions that benefit men.
So today, International Women’s Day is a grim reminder that things are not rosy in the news business. Achieving gender balance in news and in the structure of media organisations remains a challenge. Unmet, it sees more than half of the population in our countries suffer the consequences of bias, discrimination and sexism.
The business of ignoring the other half of the population can no longer be treated as normal. It’s time that media leaders grasp the challenge, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it also makes a whole lot of business sense: start covering women, give them space and a voice in news-making and propel them to all levels of decision making within your organisation.
We can no longer afford to imagine that it’s only men who make and sell the news and bring in the shillings to fund the media business. Women too are worthy newsmakers. In all of our societies, there are women holding decision making positions and who are now experts in once male-only domains such as engineers, doctors, scientists and researchers.
They can be deliberately picked out to share their perspectives and expertise and bring balance to the profile of experts quoted on our news pages. Media is the prism through which society sees itself and women are an untapped audience. So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, let us embrace diversity, which yields better news content and business products, and in so doing eliminate sexism. We know that actions and attitudes that discriminate against people based on their gender is bad for business.
As media, the challenge is ours. We need to consciously embrace and reach the commitments made 26 years ago when the Beijing Platform for Action was signed globally. As the news consuming public, you have a role to play too. Hold your news organization to account and make sure they deliver balanced news that reflects the voices of all of society.
Jane Godia is a gender development and media expert who serves as the Africa Director of Women in News programme. WOMEN IN NEWS is WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org
The eve of International Women’s Day presents an opportunity for us to think about gender equality and the long and often frustrating march toward societies that are truly equal.
As media, we are uniquely placed to drive forward this reflection and discussion. But while focusing on the challenges of gender in society, we owe it to our staff and the communities we serve to also take a hard look at the obstacles within our own organisations.
I’m talking specifically about the scourge of sexual harassment. It’s likely to have happened in your newsroom. It has likely happened to a member of your team. It happens to all genders but is disproportionately directed at women. It happens in every industry, regardless of country, culture or context. This is because sexual harassment is driven by power, not sex. Wherever you have imbalances in power, you have individuals who are at risk of sexual harassment, and those who abuse this power.
I’ve been sexually harassed. The many journalists and editors, friends and family members who I have spoken to over the years on this subject have also been harassed. Yet it is still hard for leaders to recognize that this could be happening within their newsrooms and boardrooms. Why does it continue to be such a taboo?
Counting the cost of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is, simply put, bad for business. It can harm your corporate reputation. It is a drain on the productivity of staff and managers. Maintaining and building trust in your brand is an absolute imperative for media organisations globally. If and when a case gets out of control or is badly handled – this can directly impact your bottom line.
It is for this reason that WAN-IFRA Women in News has put eliminating sexual harassment as a top priority in our work around gender equality in the media sector. This might seem at odds with the current climate where social interactions are fewer and remote work scenarios are in place in many newsrooms and businesses. But one only needs to tune into the news to know that the abuse of power, manifested as verbal, physical or online harassment, is alive and well.
Preliminary results from an ongoing Women in News research study into the issue of sexual harassment polling hundreds of journalists in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia indicate that more than 1 in 3 women media professionals have been physically harassed, and just under 50% have been verbally harassed. Just over 15% of men in African newsrooms reported being physically harassed, and slightly less than 1 in 4 reports being verbally harassed. The numbers for male media professionals in Southeast Asia are slightly higher than a quarter on both forms of harassment.
The first step in confronting sexual harassment is to talk about it. We need to strip away the stigma and discomfort around having open conversations about what sexual harassment is and isn’t. Media managers, it is entirely in your power to create dynamics in your own teams that are free from sexual harassment.
Publishers and CEOs, you set the organisational culture in your media company.
By being vocal in recognising that it happens everywhere, and communicating to your employees that you will not tolerate sexual harassment of any kind, you send a powerful message to your teams, and publicly. With these actions, you will help us overcome the legacy of silence around this topic, and in doing so take an important first step to create media environments that truly embrace equality.
Melanie Walker is Executive Director of Media Development of the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). She is a creator of Women in News, WAN-IFRA’s ground-breaking programme to increase women’s leadership and voices in the news. It does so by equipping women journalists and editors with the skills, strategies, and support networks to take on greater leadership positions within their media. www.womeninnews.org