Where are the Women? At home, not being assertive.
I arrived with 3 other Association for Progressive Communications Africa Women project (AAW) delegates on Monday morning to attend the Highway Africa conference in a raining Grahamstown, South Africa.
I looked at the conference programme for Highway Africa and saw that only 11 female speakers were listed out of fifty. This was very disappointing – especially since Highway has been criticized in the past because of the lack of women represented among speakers and chairpeople. It’s an improvement, but not by much!
In today’s Open Source publication, the headline “Be assertive to have a gender sensitive HA!” made me shake my head. Last year, women protested the lack of women speakers – this was obviously not “assertive” enough for the conference orgnisers. The statement implies that the reason for the non-appearance of women on the agenda is, well, our fault. It’s because we are too demure and coy.
Chris Kabwato is quoted as saying that “HA’s policy is to be gender balanced in everything it does”. He then goes on to put the responsibility of equal representation on women – not very gender balanced. Perhaps I can offer the training services of my organisation to elaborate on what it means to be gender balanced.
If the conference had only 11 black speakers among fifty, would Chris Kabwato be asking black journalists to be more assertive in asking for equal representation? Would we even be here this year, sitting in sessions obediently listening to funders and CEOs tell us about media in Africa?
I don’t need to demand my rights from HA – I have rights. It is not my responsibility to make HA gender balanced, but the organizers'. There are many female movers and shakers in the media sector in Africa, we are in the minority, yes, but HA could play a role in challenging the status quo. Judging from this year’s topics and discussions, challenging the status quo is not what HA is about.
Look, here I am, being assertive.