The role of the media in enhancing gender equality in Kenya

By Prof. Amos Njuguna

The Kenya Constitution (2010) provides for gender equality in that either gender (male or female) must take at least one-third of all elective and appointed public positions. It also guarantees everyone equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural, and social spheres. A decade after the constitution was promulgated, women remain significantly disadvantaged. In the 2013 and 2017 general elections, no woman contested for the presidency, and none was nominated by any political party or coalition to contest as deputy president. Women comprised 9.2% of the 1835 elected office bearers in 2017 (7.7% in 2013) despite having 47 seats exclusively reserved for them and accounting for 46% of the registered voters.

The many reasons that have been cited to explain these appalling results are inadequacies of the legal framework, lack of previous experiences in political office, and gender-based violence. One reason that has not attracted much attention is gender stereotyping and patriarchal structures propagated through the media. In 2018, the National Democratic Institute noted that gender bias contributed to the application of double standards for men and women and resulted in too much political correctness in what women said when invited in public discourses.

The interaction between gender and leadership and the exemplification of this relationship by the media is a major determinant of representation (or underrepresentation) of women in leadership positions at the political level. The arena of politics is perceived to be masculine hence good political leadership, might, and experiences are associated more with men compared to women. Voters attribute good political leadership to men hence paucity in the number of women running for office and eventual election. When the stereotyped gender of a professional role does not ‘‘fit’’ with the gender of the person seeking the role, discrimination often occurs.

The origins of gender biases have been associated with the 1750-1850 agrarian revolution that gendered labor roles where men engaged in fieldwork and women in child-rearing, branding women second-class citizens. It is during this time that roles such as administrators, servants, priests, and soldiers were invented. Since then, gender roles and gender gaps have been perpetuated through generations and unfortunately, the media has been used as the propagating tool. Journalists would ordinarily be expected to be cautious, rational, and ethical individuals who understand that gender biases once scripted, read, or cited have the potential to influence the judgment and mindsets of the consumer of the information.

Gender bias puts women in a paradox – if they conform to the societal stereotyping, they are not seen as strong leaders yet if they exemplify agentic qualities associated with sturdy leadership, and they are evaluated negatively and branded as “unfeminine”.

Sadly, the perpetuation of negative gender sentiments entrenches a culture of negative social attitudes against women and is thought to be one of the root causes of violence against women and discourages victim reporting and participation. For instance, a 2016 study conducted by the Department of Justice in the United States indicates that 42.3% of domestic violence and 67.5% of rape and sexual assault victims in the US do not report the incidences.

Journalists need to be made aware of their responsibility in avoiding intentional or unintended gender bias in reporting. It would therefore be prudent to ensure that gender aspects are incorporated in the curriculums for journalism studies. Media houses also have a role to play in ensuring that editors are cautious of gender bias in reporting.

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