In her 15 years of working in Ethiopian media, Melkamsew Solomon says she still doesn’t see enough women in senior roles.
Often, she says, women are assigned to soft news stories, then overlooked for more prominent positions.
Melkamsew has managed to buck that trend and is pushing back boundaries with her radio program Yimechish, which focuses on gender-based subjects.
Despite efforts to promote equality and push for women’s empowerment in journalism, the media sector remains male dominated. It is an imbalance advocates say deprives audiences of more diverse and inclusive coverage of issues affecting women.
A January report by the Ethiopian nonprofit the Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy found that of the 80 journalists in leadership positions, only four are women. The report also found that only 526 of the 2,400 TV and radio journalists are women.
The study’s author, Mulatu Alemayehu Moges, told VOA that the number of women in both traditional and digital media is low.
“The data we’ve collected demonstrates that in the Ethiopian electronic media, women journalists, editors, media leaders and related professionals collectively hold only 25% [of decision-making roles],” said Mulatu, who is a lecturer at Addis Ababa University’s School of Journalism and Communication.
Mulatu suggests that women’s underrepresentation in media is a result of several factors, including social and cultural barriers, discriminatory hiring practices and a lack of opportunities for career advancement.
‘Some think it is unthinkable’
Melkamsew said many believe the Ethiopian media environment is not suitable for women.
“Media is a very serious thing. Hence, some think it is unthinkable to give such a big responsibility for women,” said Melkamsew.
She said that while Ethiopia has larger media companies in the country, there are few women leaders.
“It is the same with assignments,” she said. “Women are often assigned to do soft news. And later, they are considered as not good enough for leadership.”
Additionally, she said, “By unwritten law, [women journalists] are forbidden from coming forward.”
Journalists who are married or pregnant are often told not to go out on assignment to protect themselves. But, she said, they are then “blocked from getting leadership positions.”
She said those returning from maternity leave can find themselves pushed out of positions — something that she and other female journalists she knows have experienced.
Women face obstacles
Yeshewa Masresha, who has worked in media for 17 years, shares concerns about how to bring more women into senior roles.
Yeshewa has worked for the state-run Fana Broadcasting Corporate for more than a decade. She is also on the board of the Ethiopian Media Women Association.
“They don’t have any problem joining media organizations,” she said. “However, once hired when they try to step up as a leader, there are a lot of obstacles.”
Both journalists said that female reporters are often excluded from coverage of politics or hard news.
Melkamsew, who also has a radio show at Sheger FM and is a volunteer for the Ethiopian Media Women Association, believes newsrooms should introduce regulations and policies that include women. She says organizations such as the Ethiopian Media Women Association have a role to play.
“We have a plan to help achieve all media houses design and implement gender policy,” Melkamsew said.
Call for professional development
The Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy has suggested that the government and media create mechanisms to increase the number of women working in media and do more to help women further their professionalism and editorial decision-making skills so they can take leadership roles.
Yeshewa, however, believes that if media houses want to empower women, they should focus less on quotas and more on professional development.
“When it comes to using and working on digital media, women have shortcomings in technology,” Yeshewa said. “I also don’t think we need a quota. But once we join the media, leadership opportunities need to be presented equally.”
Media professor Mulatu said carving out space for women in leadership would bridge the equality gap in the industry.
“We must stop talking about inclusion for the sake of it, rather we must implement affirmative action,” said Mulatu. “We need to support them to be on the front line.”
This report originated in the Horn of Africa’s Amharic Service.