The road to equal rights for female journalists in Somalia

Improving working conditions and safety for women working in media is part and parcel of much of IMS’ work.

Here is what we do in partnership with Fojo Media Institute in Somali to push forward gender equality in the media – as an integral and necessary part of democracy, peace and development. In a society plagued by conflict where the odds are often stacked against women, what is possible?

Mapping the working conditions of female Somali media workers

According to Somali Women Journalists, the “Gender Baseline Mapping Study” was a wakeup call. Findings documented huge inequalities between men and women working in the media sector and became a stepping stone for women to begin talking about harassment in the workplace. Since the publication of the controversial findings, women have confided in SWJ and media owners. Government institutions have reached out and asked for advice on how to carry out similar baselines in other fields.

New initiative has boosted moral

The Somali Women Journalists network (SWJ) is part of the broader Somali Media Women for Change (SMWC) initiative that aims to improve the working conditions of Somali media women through addressing key issues such as harassment, equal pay and career progress opportunities.

SMWC originally consisted of meetings with female media workers only. Later on, male counterparts and media managers and owners were included. SMWC has without doubt boosted the moral of the participating women, over 200 to date. More women challenge prevailing structures. This means that many female journalists are now working new shifts, working more to earn more and reporting harassment. Women now demand work contracts and paid maternity leave which some media houses have in fact granted. The contracts provide a greater sense of security and job safety, which are important aspects for evolving professionally.

The SWJ have gradually developed into a well-respected key player on gender related issues in Somalia with the support of IMS-Fojo who run a four-year media development programme. In December 2018, media across Somalia signed the SWJ-driven Gender Respect Declaration advocating the need to respect the rights of women in media, something they would never have done two years ago, according to SWJ.

The number of SWJ members has doubled in the three past years, and staff have developed the skills to write funding proposals, implement projects and report back to donors. This professional growth has not gone unnoticed. In late 2018, USAID and UNSOM invited SWJ to work together on projects in 2019.

Women in News leadership programme creates role models

Since its launch in 2016, the women’s leadership programme “Women in News” (WIN) has evolved from a capacity building initiative for a targeted group of female media workers to large-scale programme firmly established across Somalia. WIN has also moved from being managed by international organisations to being a locally driven programme with seven senior WIN participants now in charge in three different locations.

On an individual level, the WIN programme allowed 20 women working in the Somali media industry to take part in a tailored leadership programme, and as a result progress in their workplaces and their personal careers. Seven were selected for a Training of Trainers programme in 2018 and a total of six WIN events were held in 2018, bringing together new cohorts of participants who under guidance from senior WIN participants took part in intensive leadership training.

At a media industry level, Somali WIN participants have become vocal advocates for women media workers and their rights, both in the newsrooms and at national and international events, creating awareness and recognition of gender issues that were previously ignored.

Background: Somalia leads CPJ’s impunity index for the fourth consecutive year and many journalists have lost their lives because of their work. Two female journalists were murdered in Mogadishu over a period of six months between December 2015 and June 2016, while three others were severely injured, but survived attempts on their lives. Most recently, in June 2018 a gunman shot and seriously injured a journalist, but she survived. Four male journalists were killed in 2018.