Nairobi News


CITY GIRL: Kenyan media houses are the most unfriendly for a woman

Today, I am going to speak my truth. I have, for a long time, really tried to be likeable but likeable is boring and too… missionary.

But first, a little story. When I was growing up, there was nothing I wanted more than to become a journalist and a columnist.

My father was a huge fan of Wahome Mutahi and I would watch him reduced to teary laughter as he read Wahome’s column.

I could have been too young to understand Wahome (he died while I was in primary school) but that did not mean I was too young to dream. So it was no biggie when I finished high school and knew what I wanted to do in life. I was going to write.

And people were going to know me for my writing. I guess it is safe to say that I am sort of living a childhood dream. But why am I so unhappy?

Kenya’s media is usually in the frontline advocating for women’s rights. Oh yes, we are very aggressive in covering women; we dedicate acreages of newspaper coverage to special days like International Women’s Day, we commission commentaries and stories about the underrepresentation of women in Parliament, we scream ourselves hoarse about the fact that there is not a single female elected governor or senator in Kenya.

Simply put, Kenya’s media is the number one feminist institution in the country. And I use the word ‘feminist’ carefully, only to mean an institution that advocates for equal rights for men and women.


But that is just lip-service. Cheap stories and cheap talk. The truth is, there isn’t an industry that treats its women more poorly that Kenya’s media.

That the same media industry that is so keen on articulating women’s issues, is the single most male-dominated industry in the country. There is no industry in this country that has sidelined and mistreated its female workers than Kenyan media.

The irony is, the same media that shouts about how few women we have in boardrooms (in other industries) is the business with the fewest women on its boards and management. Our systems are patriarchal and our thinking is archaic.

Women are treated like they have no brains at all. It will be a miracle to find a woman in top management.

Our opinions do not matter, our voices are not important and I am going to say here that Kenya’s media is the most unfriendly environment for a young woman. Keep your daughters at home.

Young and ambitious women like me, who frankly, do not want to spend our careers editing women’s magazines into our 40s, are increasingly discovering that we have no place in today’s media.

Young men will always out-promote and out-earn us because the media industry is an ‘old boy’s network’ and the women are not allowed in, please.


That is why some of us are counting our last days, dejected and discouraged because we have been shown it doesn’t matter how smart, serious, focused, talented, educated or how hard you work.

You will never make it to the top. We are told we are ‘too ambitious,’ therefore we are chopped down to size, pruned to fit the archaic system, forced to shrink ourselves and put on leashes because we are ‘too loud’.

We have nobody to look up to because the older women before us are hopeless, voiceless, timid and docile.

In all my years as a journalist, never have I seen a woman in media and said “I want to be like her’. The jobs we want, the jobs that truly make a difference, are a reserve for a particular gender.

We are left with, is a bunch of disillusioned, underpaid and overworked female workers fast hurtling into their sunset years, with nothing to show for their years of labour. God forbid, that I become one of those!

I hate to bore you with statistics, but a 2014 report on the State of Media in Kenya published by Media Policy and Research Centre shows that 72 per cent of journalists are male compared to 28 per cent female journalists and I am willing to bet my entire year’s salary that the number of women in media management today is nothing worth writing here about.

I am not asking for affirmative action. We don’t want tokenism. I just want to work in an industry that recognises women. An industry that looks beyond our curves and skirts and takes us seriously.