MEDIA-KENYA: For a Woman Candidate, It’s Good To Be a Man
NAIROBI, (IPS) – As with political candidates everywhere, women running in this month’s general elections in Kenya are doubtless keeping a close eye on the media to see how they are being portrayed by news outlets. Then again, these women may simply be concerned about whether they are portrayed at all.
Reporting trends in the previous polls, held in December 2002, suggest aspirants have cause for concern in this regard.
In a 2004 master’s degree study dealing with print coverage of women candidates during the last campaign, ‘Gender Portrayal in the Mass Media’, researcher Lucy Cheluget-Cherogony writes that women aspirants “were ignored more and more as elections approached” by the two main newspapers in the country — the ‘Daily Nation’ and ‘The Standard’.
Articles about women candidates also tended to be confined to the inner pages of the newspapers, which feature family and general social issues, she notes.
A 2004 report by the African Woman and Child Feature Service (AWC Features), ‘A Journey of Courage: Kenyan Women’s Experiences of the 2002 General Elections’, made similar findings: “…between October and December 2002, only three news articles putting women in the context of the election appeared in the national newspapers.”
“And because journalists are supposed to seek for ‘senior’ sources and because women occupy fewer powerful and elite positions than men do, women featured less prominently than men in the media coverage of the elections.”
A total of 1,015 candidates ran for parliament in 2002, 44 of them women (about four percent of the total, although women make up 52 percent of the Kenyan population). None of the five presidential candidates was a woman. For the Dec. 27 vote, 269 of the 2,548 legislative candidates are women (approximately 10.6 percent of the total) — and one of the nine presidential candidates.
If the quantity of coverage given to women was a problem, then so was the quality. Cheluget-Cherogony notes that reporting tended to disregard “the most pertinent issue of women candidates’ leadership capabilities”. Instead, it focused on their “feminine qualities”.
Martin Munguti of the Media Council of Kenya, an independent body, believes inadequate coverage of female politicians is partly a reflection of their own failure to seek the limelight.
“In a way I blame women for not going for the attention. If they sought media attention they would get it because the code of conduct gives them the chance,” he told IPS, in reference to a media code of conduct drawn up in conjunction with news organisations. The code requires the media to give women fair treatment; a recently enacted media bill also holds out the promise of better coverage of women.
Notes media lecturer and researcher Kamau Mubuu of the University of Nairobi, “Men look for coverage. They are even ready to pay for it if that is what it takes.”
“But women will wait for journalists to look for them. This makes it harder for the women candidates to find their way to the media,” he said in an interview with IPS.
The male-dominated nature of Kenyan society also leads journalists to “…believe that men make news and not women. So they are not keen in looking for women politicians unless the women stand out,” observed Mabuu.
But do efforts to engage the media necessarily work? The AWC Features report suggests otherwise.
“AMWIK (the Association of Media Women in Kenya) held meetings with editors of the various media houses (concerning the last election) to lobby them to give women aspirants space. Although the editors promised to do this, no deliberate effort was made towards this by any of the media organisations,” the study recounts.
The picture is not uniformly bleak, however.
‘The Standard’ is devoting two pages every Wednesday in its weekly ‘Election Platform’ pullout to coverage of women aspirants in this month’s ballot, who will also be given an equal shot at coverage elsewhere in the paper, Deputy Managing Editor Zipporah Musau told IPS.
While training journalists at the Nation Media Group in election coverage, columnist and senior editor Macharia Gaitho advised reporters to focus on the issues espoused by women candidates when covering their campaigns — rather than succumbing to stereotypes about female aspirants.
But as concerns the publicly-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation — the broadcasting service that reaches the majority of Kenyans — there appears to be no specific initiative to ensure fair reporting about women candidates in the current campaign. “We just run women stories as they come,” Josephine Karani, a television producer at the station, told IPS.
Women politicians themselves can also help reshape views of gender in the media, as this journalist can attest.
When profiling Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua in 2003 after she was appointed to cabinet, I asked her a question about her family at the end of the interview. “Do you put the same question to men?” she replied, adding “If you don’t ask them, then don’t ask me.”
As it happened, I had put the same question to male politicians — but Karua’s point was, in a sense, well made.
The minister’s approach has earned her what may — in an ironic twist — still be the ultimate compliment for a woman politician in Kenya: being described as a man (albeit with tongue in cheek).
‘Daily Nation’ columnist Clay Muganda once described Karua as being “the only man in Kibaki’s Cabinet” because of her willingness to stand up for President Mwai Kibaki. (Karua is the sole woman in the 32-member cabinet; of the 222 posts in the last parliament, recently dissolved, 18 were held by women.)
“It is a stereotype, I know,” Muganda commented to IPS, laughing, and saying he considered himself fortunate that Karua had not called him or written to complain of the statement. “I had braced myself for her protest, but I was relieved when I heard nothing. I assume she took it as — well — a compliment.”
“It is an expression to recognise women who are really tough. Even Indira Gandhi used to be described like that, just to appreciate her astuteness. You see it is men who are associated with such qualities. What better way to describe a woman with similar qualities?” (END/2007)
By Kwamboka Oyaro