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STRONG FINISHERS WANTED

"I am at my best nearing the finish of a race. Until then I am just another mediocre distance runner. Just one of the many run-of-the-mill competitors well back in the pack. Just one more old man trying to string together six-minute miles and not quite succeeding. But with the finish line in sight, all that changes.

Now I am the equal of anyone. I am world class. I am unbeatable. Gray-haired and balding and starting to wrinkle, but world class. Gasping and wheezing and groaning, but unbeatable." So writes Dr. George Sheehan in his book Running and Being (Simon and Schuster, 1978, p. 221).

An accomplished cardiologist, author and marathon runner, George Sheehan lived his life with passion and purpose. Even when confronted with terminal cancer in 1991, he demonstrated courage and determination.

He ran life's race and he finished strong. As the year 2015 is nearing its twilight, it's only natural to look back and reflect on the months gone by. No doubt it's been a year of mixed fortunes for most of us. We've laughed. We've cried. We've lost. We've won. And everything in between. But think back to January. You no doubt were full of optimism and enthusiasm about what the new year had in store for you. Perhaps you were even convinced that this was YOUR year to make great strides and accomplishments. Now, with December fading fast, you might be disillusioned and despondent. Few or none of your aspirations may have come true.

You are nearing the finish line of the 2015 marathon, a marathon you started with much zest and gusto in January. You started strong, but will you finish strong? As with Dr. Sheehan, the day will come for each of us to finish life's race. In 2 Timothy 4, we read how that time had come for Paul. In fewer than one hundred words, he shares with us the hardships of his present life, the heartbeat of his past, and the hope he holds for the future.

In this brief passage, Paul reflects on his entire life and ministry. He looks around, looks back and then he looks ahead. With the finish line in sight, as he picks up the pace, Paul sums up his dynamic life and his hope in death. The lessons we learn from this aging apostle will enable us to run well today, while encouraging us to finish strong tomorrow. Paul's words are dictated, probably to Luke the physician, shortly before his martyrdom at the decree of the Roman Emperor Nero in the year 66 AD.

For thirty years he has traveled, witnessed, worked and preached throughout the Mediterranean world. He has been helped and hated, assisted and attacked, blessed and cursed. Whatever else can be said of his faith and life, it certainly wasn't dull! Enduring imprisonment and anticipating his execution, Paul begins in verse 6 with two vivid metaphors telling us about the hardships of the present. First, Paul sees himself as a "drink offering" about to be poured out. What is the apostle saying? In ancient Rome, banquets commonly ended with a particular ritual: the symbolic act of pouring out on the ground a cup of wine in honor of the Roman gods. Here Paul borrows this oblation imagery.

He says that his life is an offering poured out for the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, this fits with Paul's belief that all of life is to come under the Lordship of Christ. All of life is to be regarded as "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God" as Paul writes in Romans 12. In effect, the apostle is saying, "The Roman authorities will not take my life. Rather I will die living my life, giving my life for the Lord.

I have been a living sacrifice, serving Him, since the day I was saved. Now I will complete that sacrifice by laying down my life for the One who gave His life for me." Second, in Romans 12:6, Paul also relates that the hardships he is facing in the present will soon cease. He writes, "The time has come for my departure." The word "departure" is a word that has many meanings. For one thing, it can mean to hoist an anchor and set sail. It seems that Paul looked upon his present hardships and his impending death as a release from the world. Like a seafaring mariner, he was about to embark on one last expedition – an eternal voyage. Paul saw death as an opportunity to set sail into eternity. Another meaning for the word "departure" refers to striking and taking down a tent.

The apostle longed to be freed from his battered and broken body – his earthly tent – now shackled in prison. He anticipates his martyrdom as a change of address and a journey home. As he told the Philippian Christians, "to live is Christ, to die is gain". Paul awaits his release from his present hardships in order to depart and to be with the Lord. At the same time, Paul affirms God's sovereignty over life and death. He trusts in a personal and compassionate Savior and Lord who will not place on him a burden greater than he with the Lord will be able to bear.

Rather than wrest control from God, rather than alleviate his brief present hardship and suffering by taking his own life, Paul reaffirms his confidence in God's will and way. In this way Paul is determined to wait upon the Lord. In 2 Timothy 4:6, the apostle looks around at his present hardships. Then in 2 Timothy 3:7, Paul looks back on his life. He remembers the heartbeat of his past. For over thirty years, he has faithfully served the Lord. In this verse we find three images drawn from the athletic arena. Paul likens his life and ministry to that of a long distance runner who has competed honorably in the ancient Olympic games.

"I have fought the good fight." The word "fight" in the original text comes from a word which may refer to any athletic contest in the games. This phrase carries a much broader meaning than we commonly associate with a fight or a boxing match. The word is agon from which we derive our English word "agony." It pictures an athlete coming off the field, having given it his all and given it his best. Here Paul is truthfully saying that he has given his all for Christ. "I have run the race." Having given his best, Paul now sees himself as crossing the finish line. It is easy to begin a race.

It is easy to run hard for a few miles. But it is much harder to finish a long distance race, and harder still to finish strong. I believe that Paul is telling Timothy and each of us that the Christian life is not a sprint competition. Rather it is a long distance race, a marathon-type challenge, beckoning us to run well, to keep a healthy pace, to stay focused and to finish strong. There are too many strong starters but very few strong finishers. Too many people start with much aplomb and fanfare, but are nowhere to be seen at the finish line.

Years before Paul stated his life's purpose to the Church in Philippi, "I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." Here in 2 Timothy 4, Paul looks back and he is able to say "I have run the race to the finish." In both of these passages, the word for "race" is the word dromon.

It is a word that has a notable place in the ancient Greco-Roman world. Historians tell us that in the year 490 BC, a Greek dromo, a runner-messenger by the name of Pheidippides was dispatched by a Greek general to inform the citizenry of Athens that the Persians had been defeated at the Battle of Marathon. Pheidippides supposedly ran a route that took him south along the coast and up and across a series of coastal foothills before descending into Athens, a distance of about 26 miles from the plains of Marathon.

According to legend, as he arrived in Athens, Pheidippides announced, "Rejoice. We conquer!" Then he fell down dead! (see Hal Higdon, Marathon, Rodale Press, 1993). In honor of Pheidippides, the ancient Olympic games, of which the Apostle Paul was familiar, held several long distance runs. But it was the modern Olympic games, which resumed in Greece in 1896, which actually initiated the modern marathon of 26.2 miles in honor of the legendary Pheidippides. During the year 1998, figures show that approximately 450,000 American runners began and finished a marathon race of 26.2 miles.

Someone has said that the marathon is the most accessible ultimate challenge around – it is like a Mount Everest climb in a city near you! Perhaps some of you reading this have run marathons in recent years. There is a Gaborone Marathon, for example, that has run intermittently the last few years. These events are usually a blend of joy and pain, and hopefully more of the former than the latter. Still, many runners can relate to the sentiment of the great American marathoner and 1972-76 Olympic medalist Frank Shorter. While running in the marathon trials for the 1971 Pan American Games, at about 21 miles, just before dropping out of the race, Frank Shorter was really struggling. He had "hit the wall" and was fading fast.

As he was being passed by U.S. Olympian Kenny Moore, Shorter groaned one of the more famous quotes in running lore when he muttered at mile 21, "Why couldn't Pheidippides have died here?" (Higdon, Marathon, p. 😎. Although Frank Shorter and many other great marathoners have had to drop out of a particular race, the Apostle Paul never did. He stayed the course. He kept digging deep despite the temptation to quit. He saw his own life and ministry as that of a dromo, as a long distance runner and messenger for his Lord and Leader. Like Pheidippides, he had to make sure he delivers the message at all costs, even if it came at the ultimate cost – paying with his life.

Paul could claim, "I have finished the race." Then the apostle concludes his look back on his life by stating, "I have kept the faith." If we understand this statement in the context of the ancient Olympic games, Paul is telling us that he has run the race according to the rules. History reveals that the early Greek and Roman athletes took a solemn oath before the games. They pledged that they would compete honestly and honorably. Here is Paul, at the end of the race, affirming that his vows have been kept. And to whom were these vows made? To his Lord.

There are too many dishonorable men around; too many willing to cut corners; too many all too ready to try to cheat the system. I used to run middle distance, up to 10 km. I know firsthand the rigors of distance running. Paul is saying that throughout the long, lonely, difficult and demanding race, he has kept Christ uppermost in his heart and mind. His life goal for thirty years has been to be obedient to Christ's call. His faith, though tested, has grown stronger. And the Lord Jesus, in whom Paul has trusted and for whom Paul has lived, has kept and carried Paul through thick and thin. The Lord's grace is sufficient for his every need! Thus far, we have seen in verse 6 how the apostle looks around at his present hardships.

In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul looks back on his life, remembering the heartbeat of his past. Then finally, in 2 Timothy 4:8, the aging apostle looks ahead and writes about his hope for the future. "Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." In the ancient Olympic games, a winning athlete was rewarded with the coveted laurel wreath or a garland of oak leaves. With this the victor was crowned. To wear such a crown – a crown of victory called stephanos – was the greatest honor that could come to any athlete. But this crown, in a few short days, would wither. Paul knows that there is for him a crown which would never fade, and this crown of righteousness is God's reward to those who are faithful and obedient to His Son. As Paul writes to Timothy, he knows that in a very short time he will stand before the Roman judgment seat and that his trial will have but one outcome. He knows what Nero's verdict will be.

The judges in Rome were not righteous. If they were, they would have released Paul. Worse still, Nero was one of the most despotic and cruel emperors the ancient world had ever seen. Paul knew that Nero would have him beheaded. How many times had he been tried in one court after another! Yet now he faces his last Judge, his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the righteous Judge who always judges correctly. William Barclay once observed that a person who is dedicated to Christ is ultimately indifferent to the verdict of any human court. He cares not if they condemn him so long as he hears his Master's voice saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant." This is Paul's hope and joy as his life nears its end. He looks ahead with confidence and certainty.

He shares his joy with Timothy, reminding his young friend and protégé that this crown awaits not only him, but also Timothy and all others who trust, serve and live for Christ. Consider your own life. Do you have this same kind of hope and assurance? You may feel pressed and pressured on every side.

The challenges, at times, may seem relentless. You may feel a lot like Paul must have felt. Yet, do you have the hope and assurance which he knew as his death neared? Do you have the strength and the stamina to see your race out? Whether your race has just begun, is reaching the midpoint or is nearing the finish, you can have the peace of God in your life, and you can be at peace with God. How? Do what Paul did. He confessed his sin and admitted his need for God's forgiveness. He accepted God's love and accepted God's Son, Jesus Christ as the Savior and Lord of his life. That is what Paul did and that is what each of us must do. Only with the Lord will we be able to run life's race to the very best of our ability, and only with the Lord will we be able to finish strong.

The story of Eric Liddell, the 1924 Olympic 400 meter gold medalist, is widely known through the 1981 Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire. Liddell, the son of Scottish missionaries to China, himself became a missionary serving Christ in China. Like Paul, Eric Liddell was imprisoned and died for his faith and witness for Christ. Like Paul, Eric Liddell was also committed to "run for God and let the whole world stand in wonder" (a quote from Chariots of Fire, 1981). As you and I run the race set before us today and tomorrow, take time to reflect on your running. Remember Paul's words to Timothy. Realize that with the Lord, you, too, can fight the fight, run the race and keep the faith. 2015 is ending but has not yet ended. You might be on your last legs, but you can still finish whatever unfinished business you still have. Sadly, and this is a fact of life and not a prophecy of doom, some will not finish this year. None of you reading this piece is guaranteed 2016. You still have the now – 2015 – to finish. With the Lord, you can run well and finish strong!

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Botswana to Become a Vaccinated Nation: Pandemic Anxiety Over?

30th March 2021

OSCAR MOTSUMI

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.

*Oscar Motsumi: Email:oscar.motsumi@gmail.com

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The women you see in the news matter. Here’s why

9th March 2021
Jane Godia

Jane Godia

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

Jane Godia, Director, Africa, Women in News

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Why is the media so afraid to talk about sexual harassment?

9th March 2021

MELANIE WALKER

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

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