Letters from TZ

For all the working women

As you would imagine, there are not too many women in the media. Walk into any newsroom in Tanzania, and the ratio of men to women will usually hover around the 80/20 mark. Although much has changed over the years, the media remains predominantly a male preserve. If we were to do an informal head count of media owners and their managers in the region, it would quickly become apparent that the glass ceiling is still very much in place. There are some heights in this profession that only a few women have been ‘allowed’ to scale.

That alone would be bad enough, even without the challenge of being a woman and a media professional at the same time. There is a constant expectation that a woman must prove herself, where a man can be taken on his word. Beyond that, there are all manner of obstacles to single women in the profession, not least of which are sexism and sexual harassment. It is not unusual for females in the industry to be viewed as women first and media professionals second, where the word ‘woman’ comes with a gender-skewed connotation. The equality movement was a great effort that has certainly left female employees in a better position, but rather than eradicate sexist thinking altogether, it pushed it below the surface.

And where there is sexism, sexual harassment is never far behind. Women in the media work in a male dominated environment and instances of harassment, while ridiculously high, often go unreported. Working in such a fast-paced and competitive field, female workers can quickly become hardened and brutish, as the profession demands. This may explain why they would rather handle instances of harassment on their own, rather than step into the minefield of harassment policy and practice, which is a taxing process with limited outcomes.

Complex problems

Having taken that part of it into consideration, you run into an even more complex scenario – being a working mother and wife. For a female media professional, whether your work is editorial, administrative or managerial, the job is demanding. Media workers operate within one of the most labour intensive professions in the world when you consider that the job demands manpower and brainpower in similar amounts. For mothers and wives, who have an equally demanding job in the home, balancing work and life can be nightmarish. Juggling child and spousal needs with the requirements of a committed professional is next to impossible. But women are doing it every day.

And all that when polices still exist that attempt to control a woman’s ‘reproductivity’ while in the workplace, because some women apparently, have children too often. In some private companies, women can only have one child every 3-years or risk taking unpaid leave to care for their newborns. Meanwhile, pregnancy is a non-issue for men. That would have been unfair enough, had someone not invented paternity leave, which allows male workers to enjoy the perks of pregnancy without feeling the pinch.

Pregnancy is neither a disease nor a disability but it does come with its fair share of challenges. Most women might deal with the expected if unpleasant side effects of a pregnancy, which can include headaches, fatigue, morning (afternoon and evening) sickness and water retention. It’s hard to imagine being tired and achy every day for months. And yet, worse things can happen. Some expectant mothers experience complications that are incidental to their pregnancy, which can include stunted foetal growth, gestational hypertension and diabetes, severe urinary tract infections, levels of amniotic fluid that are either too low or too high and a weak cervix that could lead to a premature birth or a miscarriage. Some of these complications are so severe that a woman must remain on bed rest, which effectively removes her from her place of work, jeopardising her career and possibly putting her at the immediate risk of unemployment.

Obviously, transitioning a child from conception to delivery is not as easy as women make it seem, especially when the transition must be scheduled to fit in with a lifestyle that is already busy enough. It is a shame that we don’t commend ourselves for it more often.

But this being the last Sunday in October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month – it is fitting to express appreciation for working mothers and wives, some of whom I work with side by side. Breasts are iconic for identifying women as women and whether they are nourishing future generations or providing a comforting space for those who need encouragement, our responsibility is to keep them healthy and cancer free. Cancer does not have to be a death sentence if detected early. If you have not been doing your self-exams, start right now. Also, book that mammogram appointment.