Joy Kirigia: Equality is not just a women’s issue

On the occasion of the International Women’s Day this year, we hear from one of the leading lights in the Africa Uncensored newsroom, Joy Kirigia, a reporter. Here, she shares her highs and lows in journalism as well as perspectives on works such as the collaborations that Africa Uncensored has with other newsrooms and organizations like the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), one of Africa Uncensored‘s partners.

1. What are the major challenges facing Kenyan women in the public/private sphere?

I may not be able to adequately answer this question simply because it is such a broad perspective when we talk about the Kenyan woman/women in the public or private sphere. But from what I have seen, heard, learnt and experienced, I think I can put it into context in this way…

Generally speaking, and this has been an issue for the longest time now, the major challenges that women have been facing and continue to face, not just in Kenya but across the world, are those revolving around issues of inequality, unequal pay and sexism/discrimination. But then again, it would be unfair for me to put every woman in this bandwagon. I mean, there are those who have gone through these challenges and continue to experience them even today, but then there are those who haven’t gone through such experiences. And we have to appreciate that difference.

Nonetheless, we have to admit that challenges have been there and still exist. And if the theme for this year’s International Women’s day, “I am Generation Equality: Realizing Women’s Rights” is anything to go by, we are not just celebrating the milestones achieved and progress made 25 years since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action on the empowerment of women and girls, everywhere. We are also looking into what we have not been able to achieve, why we have not been able to fully achieve equal rights and opportunities for all and what we are doing about the stagnation and slow progress in actualizing this. Equality, I believe is not just a women’s issue. It is a societal problem, it is an economical issue, it is a leadership issue, it is a business issue, it is a development issue and so on and so forth.

We are now at a point where women finally have a stake in the opportunities that may or may not have previously been available to/for them, whether in the public or private sector but then in some instances, we still have to fight to earn equal pay as our counterparts. The fact that we still have issues of unequal pay in this day and age is unfortunate. But if we are also honest with ourselves, women have not always been encouraged to know or even understand their worth let alone claim it. And just like Elaine Welteroth, I agree that more often than not, “Women are taught – in subtle and overt ways – to give up their power, to take what they can get and to be grateful. They are not given tools to fight for themselves or taught to challenge authority.”

In addition, there is the issue of seeing women first through their gender and not their capabilities. Sometimes, we are first judged by the mere fact that we are women and not what we bring to the table or the skills we have to offer. The women before my generation and the generations before that fought this same battle. And despite proving over and again that women are more than capable of doing much more than what was/is perceived; we still have to fight to have a seat at the table.

Equality I believe is not just a women’s issue. It is a societal problem, it is an economical issue, it is a leadership issue, it is business issue, it is a development issue and so on and so forth.

However, times have changed. And in all fairness, unlike before, we have to admit that significant progress has been made. Women empowerment is working and it is very evident. If we were to benchmark the milestones achieved from the times before the Beijing Declaration, then we have come from far! Now, women are seen, they are heard, women are now respected more and most importantly they now have a seat at the table(s) and for some, a seat at the table was not enough, they went all out and built their own.
Progress, however little, is still progress. And I am glad to be alive and witness it happening.

2. How has this affected your own work/life/journalism?

Journalism in its nature is such an aggressive field. When we narrow it down to what I do, which is investigative journalism, that aggressiveness shifts a notch or two higher. I am a reporter with Africa Uncensored. As a young individual and by extension, being a woman, I will admit that it has not been easy.

Investigative journalism has traditionally been a male-dominated area, and we can tell from the number of men and women in this particular field. In Kenya for instance, we do have a number of investigative journalists but very few are women. Many factors, of course, could have attributed to this and I would like to believe that one of them probably has to do with the nature of the job itself. It is a risky and challenging job.

As a woman in a largely male-dominated field, I admit that there is a certain level of pressure, self-induced or one that comes with the profession/expectations from the outside world that is always there and on a constant high. I always feel like I have to do more, work really hard, first just to make sure that I am good at what I do and so that I don’t make mistakes. But if I am being honest, I also work super hard and do a lot more than probably what is expected, because to some extent, it feels like I am not enough. It feels like I always need to do more in order to fit in. I have to do that extra work, at least for me to be seen, appreciated and to be accepted. And no, this is not a self-esteem issue. It all comes from somewhere.

I have worked and reported on a number of stories before but in the year 2019, I worked on my very first ever long-form investigative story, Public Disservice, Kenya: Shiny New Useless Machines. It was followed by a documentary, Saving Esther, a story on the misuse and wastage of public funds in the medical sector by the Kenyan government, which led to patient neglect and a lot of injustice to the Kenyan citizens. The story received a lot of positive and encouraging feedback, but that aside, there were a few comments indicating their preference of a male figure or male voice being behind the story instead. Now, as a journalist, I did the best that I could have possibly done to tell the story but still, to some, it wasn’t enough. There is a certain level of expectation or preference from society, our own audience and/or some individuals about “who” or “how” things should be done. And this is okay. I mean, we cannot force ourselves onto people. At the end of the day, it is our differences in opinion, preferences and personalities among other things that make each one of us unique.

But for what it’s worth, it would most certainly be great to get to a point where the most important thing about the kind of work we do as journalists, is not “who” was behind a certain story, (it in terms of their gender), credibility notwithstanding, but rather, what the story was all about and how it impacts on each one of us.

3. Tell us about your connection/work with/training with IWPR

First of all, the beauty of working with Africa Uncensored is that it provides a space where we get to engage with a lot of organizations outside of the work that we do, whether it is through funding or collaboration/partnerships. This opportunity has been important in helping me personally broaden my scope on issues and helped me see the world from very different perspectives.

An example of a collaboration that I personally found to be very interesting and quite necessary is the partnership between Africa Uncensored and the Institute of War and Peace Reporting. IWPR’s agenda is to support and bring together local reporters, citizen journalists and civil society activists around the world by training, mentoring and building up the institutional capacity of media and civic groups, with the aim to remove barriers from free expression as well as citizen engagement.

This platform has provided journalists and the activists the opportunity to sit together, engage and work on projects that raise public awareness through the stories we tell and through the civil society organizations’ advocacy campaigns, targeting human rights violations and crime.

We have previously worked on a lot of stories revolving around human rights violations, crime and injustices. But even with such powerful stories, most are the times we journalists are not able to push for a certain level of change or impact, just by telling a story. This is also because as journalists we are guided by certain regulations and media ethics that limit us from crossing certain boundaries. Therefore, there is only much we can do and as far as we can go when it comes to such matters.

A partnership like the one facilitated by IWPR, where we journalists sit down with CSOs either through workshops and other events, has helped bridge this gap. Where we are not able to adequately push for positive change especially on important matters such as human rights and injustices through our storytelling, the civil society comes in and helps project this information even further. I would say that this collaboration has tried to improve and positively impact our ability to reach more people. We are now able to or at least working towards sharing across important information to the public, in one voice despite coming from different sectors and most importantly, bringing our minds and resources together in order to put pressure on decision-makers to hold the abusers of law to account.

4. How has your life/work/activism changed/improved as a result of your connection to IWPR?

It is the hope of every journalist, myself included, that with every story we tell, the outcome is largely positive, the impact is felt and the stories reach as many people as possible. But the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t always turn out that way.

And one of the challenges especially in a space like the one I am in, an independent media house, is that our platform currently, is not as big or rather command a large audience as that of more established media outlets. Africa Uncensored’s main platform, for instance, is the online space, but we have been able to do a lot of collaborations with more established media houses and organizations. Through such partnerships, we are able to reach more people and get important investigative/in-depth stories as well as information to the public.

Engaging and working with the Institute of War and Peace Reporting has played an important role in helping create this impact. In addition, this platform has not only been about raising public awareness or advocacy campaigns or bringing together journalists and CSOs. It has also been a platform where men and women have been empowered in order for them to achieve their best in their respective sectors. That inclusiveness has been very encouraging.

But lastly, I have confidence that to a certain degree, collaborations such as these will help improve the relations between journalists and the civil society and possibly even created a better understanding of what we all do in our different capacities.
And at the end of the day, I believe that great impact is best achieved when different people, sectors/organization, countries, you name it, come together and work together.

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