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The aura around the African Woman in Sports Media

Just like a how the sun crashes down on the Kalahari desert in Botswana and rises beautifully above the breathtaking Victoria falls in Zambia, it has become totally evident that the surge and rise in sports participation by women in Africa has seen quite a huge push up the steep hill. The renaissance of sports journalism is underway as more and more women are taking that brave leap of faith into sports writing and broadcasting. However, just like there are two sides to every coin, sports journalism for women, have been an insightful journey yet with many roadblocks to contend with.

First Africa Women Sports Summit

Sports journalism is one rollercoaster ride for any individual but with more bumps for the women who take that ride unfortunately. Most women begun their journalism in sports through the passion and ardent love they have for Sports. The one story, which runs through the lives of the very few who have thrived is none other than Passion, Determination, Drive, Hard work and Resiliency. Sports Journalism is one of the most demanding fields in journalism undoubtedly and requires professionals to be on their toes as they dispense apt sports stories to their respective audiences. One major highlight of this industry is its dominance by men over the past decades after its inception. However, just like many male dominated professions, It is very clear that Sports Journalism in the world has seen a pivotal change with the involvement of women giving it a whole new dimension and perspective.

Society’s paradigm of a typical woman in Africa is to take charge of the home along with the responsibility of making it, if not the best, amongst the most respected in the community. Africa, as we know is still a highly patriarchal society with most women pursuing peripheral roads and careers. Seeing women disregarded or underrated in these male-domineering careers is a regular scene witnessed frequently. The demeaning stereotype the average African woman in sports media faces daily is jaw dropping. Regardless of the many trying roadblocks they face, there are dedicated pioneers who have proven their insulation and great resilience to these dispiriting remarks. Looking through the spectrum of light these great women project, the young African girl who’s coiled up in her shell peeping through could never resist the urge to take her place amongst them. That is exactly what the likes of Carol Manana Tshabalala of Super Sports and Premier League TV, Rosalind Amoh, veteran Ghanaian Sports journalist and vice chairperson of the Ghana Women’s Premier League Committee, Juiet Bawuah Group Head of Sports at TV3 Ghana, Usher Komugisha of Super Sports, Inas Mazhar, a seasoned Egyptian sports reporter, Eva Okyere, a Sportscaster and lawyer , Evelyn Watta, CNN Journalist as well as Vice President of AIPS and many more have done for Sports Journalism in Africa.

They most definitely, have scaled above the ranks and are at the pinnacle of their sports journalism careers respectively. As women who were not privileged with the availability of many Female Sports reporters in the media to follow, one cannot help but admire how far they have come. It is still evident that many media outlets in Africa undermine the potential of women in sports reporting despite the mind blowing strides some have made on the local and international front. Others have also flawed this outdated assertion, and are actually amplifying the female voices in the News rooms but the former overshadows the latter. Distressing, would be an understatement for the underrepresentation of women in sports media and the media as a whole. According to Global Media Monitoring Project, Africa in 2010 had only 19 percent of female news subjects in media houses. The numbers however rose by an encouraging 18 percent (37%) as at 2015 with more women represented in the media. However, the more progress we witness in women representation in the media, the more we realize the need to work even harder to achieve equity in the industry. It is 2020, the beginning of a new decade yet Gender Equality at workplaces is still a major impediment to media development in Africa. Female sports journalists have to condone with these poignant circumstances in other to find their feet in sports media. The few who have been given the opportunity proved their worth and stepped on that launchpad to rise above the ranks as they rub shoulders with their highly rated male counterparts in sports reporting.

The million dollar question that runs through the minds of many is why are women still in the shadows when it comes to sports journalism? Especially in Africa. If there’s a heightened sensitization on gender-equity, why then are lesser women seen in the press box of top flight sports competitions, reporting for major news outlets?. A subsequent question one can also ask is; if there sure has been a renaissance in Female Sports Journalism, why then are few women in Sports studios sharing their opinions with the men as well? The list of questions can fill a whole section in the Timbuktu library. However, steering more to the road of answers, diverse observations have been made.

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The Prevalent Adherence To “ THE African Culture”

The real problem, stems from the grassroots; the home, the school, religious divinities to mention a few. These places have proven to be the most important catalyst for child development. It is rather disheartening to see how archaic conceptions and miscued doctrines are instilled into them all in the name of preserving “The African culture”. Children are taught to be themselves yet are dictated on what to do. There are boys who would love to be top-level chefs in future, yet the case of inferiority complex dampens their spirit. The once-spirited-young- boy then trains himself to take up a more “manly” course like engineering. In that same vein, young girls who love to indulge in sports-related activities are forced to shut their dreams out as the encouragement they are given right from infancy, is close to zero. Some take up courses and careers society’s criterion have set as appropriate for the profession of a woman in Africa. Many homes in Africa refuse to support the dreams of children who love to venture into sports related activities and moreover make a career out of it. The pigeonhole the girl-child faces is ten times worst. Majority of African parents prefer to direct the path of their children down to the careers they deem as fit for them. They buttress their actions with absurd facts that it isn’t womanly and it depreciates womanhood to do sports. The world is transforming in many ways with a heightened propagation in Feminism and women empowerment. Unfortunately, the influence it has here in Africa is nothing to write home about .A handful of parents who are more abreast with the dynamic changes in the world do support their children should they love to venture into sports. This chronic mentality, however is still deeply rooted in the minds of many African parents/guardians and that’s a huge let-off for sports journalism in Africa. Several women from childhood are coaxed to give their dreams up in sports reporting largely because of their parents opinions but other factors would prove to be more adverse going forward.

Little Interest in Sports By School Authorities

Sports Seminars in Africa is held once in a blue moon in various African schools. Many high schools in Africa do not put in effort by bringing in sports journalists stationed in their countries, to schools for an insightful interaction with the students. How well do school authorities make sports reporting right from upper primary school comfortable for all children who have the passion for it?. Both boys and girls pick up a keen interest in sports right from infancy. The more they participate in sports the higher their zeal to make a career out of it by pursuing it either as an athlete or through sports journalism. Various Schools at each level must deem it a priority to develop the youth in sports. It is fact that these practices go a long way in nurturing and producing numerous talented sports-oriented professionals.

The few, who despite the threats and discouragement from their parents and guardians , pursue their dreams, then have to psyche themselves up mentally and find solace in the “Hope” that every effort will one day pay-off. How then can young girls draw inspiration to fuel their drive for sports journalism?. One run-of-the-mill stories we hear from Female Pioneers in sports journalism always highlights their sports escapades with their relatives who watched diverse sporting events on TV or at the stadium where they were privileged to join. Others like Usher Komugisha who loved to participate in various sporting activities also pick up their interest in sports from there. In any case, that shouldn’t be the only way to draw inspiration. It is obvious, most parents in Africa do not realize how influential their opinions and support is and how long it goes in shaping the dreams of their children. This kind of support gives them room to harness their full potential and start out very early. More time should be allocated in teaching children the essence of gender-equality, desisting from stereotyping one another, declassification of careers and the freedom to choose whatever career they desire. Tackling the issue from the grass root obviously will reduce gender imbalances not only in sports journalism but in other fields as well.

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The Hostile Sporting Environment here in Africa

The crystal stereotype against females in sports journalism is however understood on the basis that Sports in Africa need a massive facelift in order to put at ease the derailed opinions of people. Many parents and people fear for women in such a demanding venture like the world of sports. They perceive the woman as very fragile and weak thus unable to succumb to the pressure from the field and its hostile environment they have to face day in day out. A lot of sacrifices go into sports journalism. Travelling the length and breadth across countries and continents to cover sporting events is amongst the difficult nature of sports reporting. Keeping up to date with stats and developing an audience is very important and tedious to say the least. Nonetheless, an encouraging number of women have proven they are up for the task and are making remarkable strides with their steadfast work ethics.

It is extremely distressing to see how African female sports journalists are limited to reporting for female sports only. People value their trustworthiness only when it comes to female sports but it is a whole different story on the flip side of the page when it comes to men’s sports. Majority of fans get sensitive when women report on sports hence throw a barrage of stereotyping comments at them. Popular amongst them; ‘go back to the kitchen’, ‘ you should quit sports reporting’ ‘stick to watching zeeworld’ just to mention a few. The sexist comments passed by their co-male workers in the newsrooms as well as the discrimination they endure is what dampens their spirits thus making the profession unpleasant to other young girls. The participation in sports by women needs a total overhaul of opinions and practices in the various newsrooms and media organizations. More women deserve the opportunity to feature on various panels of sports productions and write sports stories as well. It all begins with bestowing onto them that rare opportunity to showcase their potential. Most women in sports journalism aren’t given the mandate to work on leading edge sports stories and headlines in several media outlets. Soft news beats, player lifestyles and hot gossip about players are shoved down their throats to report on. The frequent discrimination against each and everyone of them tells a lot about the progress we’re making in the propagation of gender-equality in Africa especially in the various professions. It is like a never-ending spiral of problems most of them go around year in year out. Some do withstand the challenges and find the route to success in the field. Others, well fall off from dizziness and try out other ventures. Irrespective of the many roadblocks they face, Top-level sports media house like Super sports have Carol Tshabalala rocking it in every fold. She currently is the only woman and first African to have hosted the FIFA Ballon d’or back in 2011, the most grandiose awards night in football.

Considering how demanding the field is, female sports journalists are kept on their toes to deliver impeccable sports commentaries and news to their audiences. That is exactly what the accomplished women are doing thus hoisting the name of African Female Sports Journalists to the world. They all know they have to work extra hard to gain credibility in this male-domineered ecosystem. “if there’s something Rosalind always tells me is; the men are doing 100%,but you have to be sure to be doing like 400 or 300%” Juliet Bawuah, advised in a press interview after her maiden African Sports Summit in 2019. All these sizzling female sports journalism pioneers have given a unique voice to sports in Africa and the world as their knowledge in sports is nothing short of precision and in-depth wisdom about the field.

The Need For More Mentorship Events; Be it official or unofficial

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Mentorship is one of the many problems faced in this genre of journalism for women especially. To prove they are aware of all the issues faced, The multi- award winning sports journalist, Juliet Bawuah held a summit to address this issue.

…..”a one day event, aims at connecting leading female names in African sports media with aspiring journalists on a rare level of mentorship. This is a day set aside for the celebration of the African woman in sports, as well as deliberations to find solutions to challenges and stereotypes.” The summit’ss official twitter page wrote on their timeline during their preparation for the maiden event.

As a way of inspiring and igniting the fire in aspiring young women sports journalists, Juliet Bawuah of TV3 Ghana decided to imprint her name in African history as she organized a summit. The summit created that haven of safe space for all Female Sports Journalists as they converged at the Alisa Hotel in Accra. The summit which was dubbed “The African Women Sports Summit” was the first of its kind in Ghana and Africa as well. The Auditorium was graced with the presence of Leading edge sports journalists with majority being females. The challenges of the modern African woman in sports media were all duly addressed and insightfully discussed by seasoned sports journalists like Carol Tshabalala, Usher Komugisha, Nana Aba Anamoah, Eva Okyere and Juliet Bawuah herself. Each woman one way or the other shared their roadmap to glory in sports media. The Summit was themed “take your place” as the main objective was to champion greater female inclusion in the African Sports media.

The comments after the maiden African Women’s Sports Summit were extremely positive as well as its ratings which encouraged the founder, Juliet to organize it annually. As Juliet Bawuah has laid down the foundation to inspire and nurture the young African woman into becoming a seasoned sports journalist, it will be an effective policy to launch the initiative across the length and breadth of the African continent. It is high time women took their places in the Sports fraternity without feeling inferior. This has been a topic, few media houses and groups have brought to the limelight, yet the main point isn’t hammered on well enough. It merely ends as a discussion and little efforts are made to actually inspire and make female sports journalists feel welcome in the sports ecosystem. Juliet’s hope for sure was that each and every young aspiring sports journalist was nothing but full of inspiration to prove their worth. With regards to Rosalind’s advice, it is evident that the underestimation of women in sports is a canker that is yet to be eradicated in Africa. All the same, the merits in working harder out-weighs the flaws and it is totally worth all the effort. Carol Tshabalala in an exclusive interview with Ghanaian based TV station Citi TV advised young women venturing into the industry to be passionate genuinely about sports, very hardworking and well versed in their beats(sports they report for) and be fully aware of their strengths.

A very common annotation to African women in sports, is how they downplay their voices and capability to influence the Sports Journalism industry in spectacular ways. Though predominantly run by males, the voices of women adds a new perspective and is unique. Men do feel intimidated when women try to venture in sports journalism, but if all these wonderful and accomplished Female Sports journalists had succumbed to all these nerve wrecking remarks passed frequently, Africa would’ve been devoid of female sports story tellers. Many forgot about their gender restrictions and just submerged into their work which really is the true definition of “I get paid for doing what I love”

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The South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) in 2013, launched an initiative to train more sports journalists in their country. The show’s main objective was to locate the next big sports journalist for the media house. Auditions were to be carried out in seven provinces across the country with Minnie Diamini, a renowned South African sports journalist championing the whole show. Though an aura of great expectancy was built around the show, it couldn’t pull through with reasons unknown to the public till date. Despite its failure, there is no denial that it was a very productive initiative and the results could have churned out great and seasoned sports journalists irrespective of their gender, creed or race. It was a huge let off for many women who really saw the show the limelight they needed to improve their skills and showcase their undisputed ability to survive in the sports ecosystem. This idea, still lies around and can be adopted and brought to realty by many other media houses across the continent. A great deal of effort will be needed to bring this cause to light just as Juliet Bawuah vehemently launched the Africa Women’s Sports Summit against all odds. More opportunities and mentorship are required to give sports journalists especially female sports journalists the chance to utilize the platform equally as well.

Feeling a Sense of Belonging in This Fraternity is Very Key. Unfortunately, that isn’t so Common

Usher Komugisha of Super sports described her work as both leisure and work. “my work is also my leisure. Like when I’m in a stadium, I’m enjoying the game as much as I’m working” she remarked in an interview with leo Africa review. She went on by appreciating the support and understanding given by her superiors at Super Sports and The Federation of International Basketball Association (FIBA) to the overlapping nature of sports. The support most women in sports journalism yearn for but how many media outlets accord that kind of support to their correspondents and journalists across board?

Most women sports journalists are not seen as professionals but instead supposed opportunists who come into the field to have conjugal relationships with their bosses and athletes hence aren’t taken seriously. Female sports journalists at Foreign based media outlets also have their share of crude banter and that tells us how demanding the job is for each and every one of them. Juliet Bawuah in an interview sadly expressed how she almost quit sports journalism due to these maligning remarks. “…it’s all about hard work, it’s not just about having the passion to do sports journalism or being a woman in sports. You have to be knowledgeable so that when you speak, it wouldn’t just be about gender balancing but rather to show that you actually merit the job” she further advised.

Carol Tshabalala, in an interview back in 2016 with the Times live, said “….with sports, it’s not about your glamour, it’s about what you know. It’s about being taken seriously in the industry. You are not going to last because of your looks, you are going to last because of your knowledge” she hinted.

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Balancing marriage with work, is a huge sacrifice each and every sports journalists faces. As they go about their work, many female sports journalists have to condone with family demands coupled with demeaning remarks from sports audiences. One can’t help but imagine the struggles and trials they face. Inas Mazhar in an interview with BBC Africa’s Nishat Ladha back in 2014 drew attention to the sexists comments she normally faces as men she encounters in interviews always told her to get married rather than indulging in a man’s job. The staggering Evelyn Watta, recipient of the 2014 CNN Sports Journalist of the year award, was also present and hinted at the high level of disrespect rendered to women and how unprofessional their interviewees are by making advances at them. “ ….I’m lucky I have a man who loves sport, sometimes the long stays away put a strain on our relationship” Evelyn further remarked.

Female sports Journalists for one have no choice than to grow a very tough shell to shield the vilifying remarks they receive day in day out. That shell has paid off for some of them as they are simply at the pinnacle of their respective careers and gaining the attention their work deserves. The prevalent question therefore is how many can grow that tough shell, more so, with the few who do, how long can they hold on? Are women supposed to lower their standards in sports journalism to please the majority of the public? Why can’t they embrace their true self and do what they love without maligning judgements? Obviously there is more homework and clean-up to be performed in sports media for immediate change to be achieved.

It seems like a windy and foggy path for African sports female journalists. It takes a strong buckle up and a tough shell to go down this path. Carol Tshabalala, Juliet Bawuah, Usher Komugisha, Evelyn Watta, Inas Mazhar and the like found their way from the Kalahari wilderness to the fruitful falls of Victoria and are being noticed and appreciated for their work every day. We have a long way to go in appreciating the work African Female sports journalists do. The ultimate dream therefore is for the gatekeepers of sports to allow many knowledgeable females through to fully exploit their dreams and potentials. Seeing more women in the press box at next year’s AFCON and other major sporting events will be a beautiful sight to watch. We all need to treat them equally as their male-counterparts in the industry, try our best to encourage them as well as correct them when they falter in their line of work. This will go a long way in perpetuating gender equity in the sports media and the media in general.

We mustn’t lose sight of the bigger picture; that we need to chip in maximum effort in creating quality sports content from Africa and reporting vastly on our various leagues around the continent. Our collective voices and creative stories in the media is a major step in making more and more Africans appreciate their respective leagues and enjoying it to the fullest.

It might be a mirage if we keep battling with gender inequalities by impeding women from reporting on any sport.

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By Owusuaa Appiah-Fei

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