OPINION: Sexual harassment still rampant in Kenyan newsrooms

By Sharon Kiburi

As the world comes to terms with appropriate work space protocol for women and all genders, Kenya media lags far behind.

According to a recent survey, sexual harassment in Kenyan newsrooms remains rampant despite it being a crime.

The legal definition of sexual harassment is any kind of sexual behaviour–physical and/or psychological–that makes someone feel uncomfortable. More often than not, it is a manifestation of power relations.

Consequently, due to the natural definition of sexual harassment, it requires the accusers to prove systemic or consistent behaviour, often a challenge at best.

In a study that was conducted by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) and Article 19 East Africa, a majority of respondents said they know colleagues who have been sexually harassed at work or in the field.

“Complements and work favours if granted in a form of quid pro quo in a workspace are considered sexual harassment,” explains Queenter Mbori, a gender equality advocate, senior editor and President of Standard Group Women Network (SGWN).

SGWN is a professional network that seeks to articulate the voice of women at the workplace and position them for greater impact on society.

Ms. Mbori has been instrumental in reviewing sexual harassment policy for Standard Group PLC and creating extensive awareness around issues of sexual harassment at the workplace.

Ms. Mbori explained that both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment and the vice may also be experienced by same genders.

According to the Heshima Survey 2019, women across the globe are more affected (48%).

22 per cent of men in media and entertainment have also faced sexual harassment from a colleague or supervisor.

“It is the employees right to know how to identify sexual harassment on self or other, sexual harassment affects the productivity of victims is bad for business,” said Ms. Mbori.

According to the MCK survey, sexual harassment affects productivity in the media.

“Sexual harassment in the media space in Kenya is so normalised it appears as if its part of the culture,” said Rachel Ombaka, an online journalist.

In her first eight years in the media industry, Ms. Ombaka says she did not recognise sexual harassment because she did not know what it was and it was not something that was given any priority.

“When I joined Citizen TV and the Women in News training program, sexual harassment was one of the units we were taken through. This training is what made me aware about the vice,” she said.

According to Ms. Ombaka, everyone needs to be comfortable at work irrespective of their gender.

She intimated that there are some women who are forced to second-guess their dress code before going to work because they do not feel safe wearing what they want lest it warrants unwanted attention.

“Those who experience sexual harassment are to a large extent female because the media industry in Kenya is mostly patriarchal. Journalism from its onset was male-dominated and when women came into the media space they already posed a threat. Most bosses did not know how to work and deal with women,” said Ms. Ombaka.

She adds that studies have shown that in most Kenyan families, men are conditioned to internalise the need to display power and a sense of control.

Hence when a woman is in their working space the same men express the belief that a woman’s place is in the home or kitchen and as a result, sexual harassment ensues.

Ken Bosire, formerly a Managing Editor at the People Daily,  said: “Direct and indirect sexual harassment of women in the media space has caused them not to flourish.”

He states that sexual harassment policies in many media houses are present as a formality but they are not enacted.

Mr. Bosire avers that very few media professionals talk about sexual harassment because of lack of awareness, fear of stigma or job security.

“Sexual harassment is very pronounced at the more so at entry-level in most cases, creating a traumatizing and wrong working environment especially for young ladies which in turn leads to them abandoning the profession,” he said.

He added: “The lack of orientation by human resource managers when they bring in new staff creates an enabling environment for perpetrators and prolongs the culture.”

Mr. Bosire, who has been in the media industry for 27 years, further noted that perpetrators seem to get away with sexual harassment acts or even get a slap on the wrist hence why female journalists continue to bear the brunt.

“The paradox of it all is that the media in Kenya reports on sexual injustices in society or in other organisations but does not in its own space,” Mr. Bosire says.

According to him, there are regulatory needs that go beyond the newsroom and organizations such as the Media Council can not only provide oversight but also intervene when necessary.

Sharon Kiburi is a freelance journalist