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More female journalists in sub-Saharan Africa but glass ceiling remains

News: Jun 26, 2017

Recent years have seen a rise in the number of female journalists in sub-Saharan Africa. However, traditional preconceptions about status and suitability for certain jobs continue to form a glass ceiling for their career opportunities. These are the findings of a thesis from the University of Gothenburg.

The media market in South Africa and other countries in the region has expanded exponentially over recent decades. This is a result of globalisation, technological advances, a growing middle class and a liberalisation of legislation covering the media. Parallel to this, the number of women working in journalism has increased rapidly. However, few black women have succeeded in reaching senior positions in the profession.

Photo of Maria ZuiderveldIn her thesis, journalist and doctoral candidate Maria Zuiderveld, herself raised in sub-Saharan Africa, has attempted to reveal the various structures and practices – known in gender studies as invisible nets – that currently form the glass ceiling for women seeking a career in journalism. Her focus has been on the situation in South Africa. However, she has also carried out comparisons with Zambia, Uganda, Nigeria and Ethiopia.
“There are a number of national nets of this kind within journalism that each behave in different ways,” says Maria Zuiderveld. Women use various strategies to navigate the different nets, depending on the type of symbolic capital that is valued in the net in question.
“And it became apparent that South Africa’s history of colonialism and apartheid has created specific structures that prevent black women from reaching senior positions in journalism.”

The majority of the black female journalists in the study come from lower income classes, something that has affected their opportunities to acquire cultural capital in the form of language and education. The South African women did however have access to a unique form of “social working capital” acquired thorough their participation in the struggle against apartheid.
“Being a part of the antiapartheid movement left black female journalists with access to an important network of individuals who went on to hold important positions within the state apparatus and ANC. This helped them to reinforce their positions in newsrooms,” explains Maria Zuiderveld.

In Maria Zuiderveld’s study, positive discrimination was shown to create considerable differences in the position of women within journalism in South Africa in comparison to the other countries surveyed.
“I also observed that characteristics linked to preconceptions about masculinity and femininity differ from country to country, meaning that gender logic within journalism takes different forms depending on which country one studies,” she says.

For the purposes of her study, Maria Zuiderveld carried our qualitative interviews with a total of 29 journalists occupying a variety of positions; focusing on how they entered the profession, their experience of working as a journalist, their career path and how they see their position and status within the field.

Contact: Maria Zuiderveld, telephone: +46 (0)70 775 0085, email: maria.zuiderveld@gu.se
Thesis title: Battling the ’Invisible Nets’. Gender in the fields of journalism in sub-Saharan Africa.
Learn more about the thesis at: http://hdl.handle.net/2077/52127

Photo: US Army

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