Reitumetse Makwea

By Reitumetse Makwea


Beyond headlines: The woes of being a woman

As a black woman, I navigate not only the gendered expectations placed upon me, but also the racial biases that pervade society and the media.

Women worldwide celebrated International Women’s Day last week – a day that for many evoked a range of emotions; a day to gloat over the progress we’ve made and sulk over the hurdles we still face.

For some, it was a day of celebration, recognising the achievements of women in various fields, from politics to science to arts.

It was an opportunity to highlight the contributions of women throughout history and to advocate gender equality and women’s rights.

However, for others, the day brought frustration, anger and disappointment, particularly when reflecting on the ongoing challenges and inequalities that women face worldwide.

Women still encounter barriers to equal opportunities, discrimination, violence and systemic oppression in many parts of the world.

And the world of journalism is no exception. Every industry has its shortcomings, even ours – and despite great strides made by women in media, sexism and racism still rule.

At least seven years ago, I sat with a couple of amazing women in this industry, who spoke about the challenges of being female. The panel included broadcasters Sally Burdett, Faith Mangope, and Michelle Craig, among others.

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They spoke vividly about the inequalities and arrogance of male counterparts, experts and officials… but they still had much hope.

Don’t get me wrong, they definitely have paved a way for us but the intersection of gender and race compounds the challenges we face, which has made our journey towards equality all the more arduous.

Despite our dedication to our craft, we are frequently met with condescension, scepticism, or outright dismissal. It’s a frustrating reminder that gender bias still permeates even the most ostensibly progressive spaces.

Adding another layer to this complex dynamic is the insidious presence of racism. As a black woman, I navigate not only the gendered expectations placed upon me, but also the racial biases that pervade society and the media.

The recent International Women’s Day served as a stark reminder that the journey towards equality is incomplete without addressing the intersecting barriers faced by women of colour.

From just saying my name, the change in tone I have received – and unfortunately this not only comes from men, but women as well, irks.

I remember asking a female expert for her opinion a year ago and her response? “So you want me to do the story for you. You young journalists are just lazy. What happened to seasoned journalists who knew never to ask stupid questions?”

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I was crushed. Because besides the backlash, threats and slurs we as journalists receive on social media or through e-mail, you still have to face condescending comments, too.

However, amid these challenges, there is resilience and determination. Black women in journalism continue to defy the odds, using our platforms to amplify marginalised voices, challenge dominant narratives and hold power to account. We refuse to be silenced or sidelined by the entrenched systems of sexism and racism.

Yet, the burden of progress cannot rest solely on the shoulders of marginalised journalists. It is incumbent upon news organisations to actively address and dismantle these systemic inequalities.

This requires a commitment to diversity and inclusion at all levels, as well as a willingness to confront uncomfortable truths about entrenched biases and discrimination.

From behind-closed-doors conversations about pay disparities, the lack of understanding and dismissal of crucial issues, it is important to bring forth those conversations.

While we celebrate the achievements of women, we must also acknowledge the work that remains to be done.

In journalism, as in society at large, true progress requires a collective effort to dismantle the barriers that hold us back and build a more equitable future for all.

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