Pervasive sexual harassment against female reporters, editors, and writers is rarely aired publicly, but it is an open secret in the field.
There have been a number of cases worldwide where female journalists have lost male sources for their stories for simply refusing to entertain flirtatious advances made towards them and female journalists, this in Namibia is no exception.
Chairperson of the Editors’ Forum of Namibia, Joseph Ailonga earlier this week told The Patriot that he has come across such cases but could not tell if they were prevalent as he has only heard of a few.
Ailonga noted that the Namibian law caters for such cases and that no one should sexually harass another human in any form as Namibians have a right to peace.
“Harassment by law is a criminal offence thus any female journalist who finds themselves in such a position must take up such cases with the police and the relevant authorities where these men work.
We are here to tell facts and keeping such stories hidden is an injustice to our society. Speak up and speak out to ensure that females are not intimidated when executing their work” he stressed.
Several female journalists who spoke to The Patriot on this topic this week highlighted the prevalence of male sources, even those in high offices, making sexual advances on them.
Northern-based journalist at The Namibian, Tuyeimo Haidula notes that as a young female journalist she has and still continues to face a lot of challenges when it comes to conducting interviews with male sources because “these sources are said to be more interested in her femininity, than the journalist in her.”
With most of her interviews always ending with requests for lunch dates, Haidula notes that in cases when she has blatantly refused these requests she would inevitably lose an important source of information.
“One time I had to interview a senior public official, on arrival at his office, this man said he had a picture of me as a fat and old woman but clearly I looked very young and still edible in person. After that I told him in the politest manner that what he said was not welcome, he in return told me that I do not have manners.
He also said that because I had told him off, I was not going to get any answers out of him. I however stood up for myself and told him that I would write a letter to the Head of State. The man apologised and the interview went on as planned,” highlighted Haidula.
Haidula also feels that sexual violence experiences do not just end with male sources as newsrooms also harbour the most hostile environment for females which is unfortunate.
“Female journalists are exposed to language and actions that embarrass them sexually as they relate to the public and even with their colleagues and bosses at work place. This starts off as jokes about women’s feminine features like breasts and hips,” she explained.
Haidula dreams of a better media industry where female journalists are judged on merit and not on our gender.
“We need to maintain high moral values in our way of dressing and interaction with the public so as to avoid high rates of sexual harassment. Relationships with sources and other members of the public should be highly professional to avoid giving room for unnecessary advances.
Media owners and editors should make efforts to change stereotypical views about women. If women in the newsroom are not empowered, it will be difficult for the status of women to change in society.
They should also create policies that strictly sanction perpetrators of sexual harassment” said Haidula.
Charmaine Ngatjiheue, who also writes for The Namibian said, she too, had to fend off sexual advances from sources.
“I would innocently give my contact details because there are times where I will have to do follow ups for my stories.
However, it always turns out to be more than that for some of them, they will try and take it further by asking for physical relationships” she said.
Ngatjiheue further shares that there has also been a case where a married source she interviewed before went as far as calling her at night for unappropriated reasons.
“I graciously declined and told him that I did not appreciate what he was trying to do but I also knew that telling him off would cause me losing an opportunity to get comments or information from him in the near future which would hinder me from actually solidifying some of the stories” she explained.
“I know of fellow female journalists who eventually cave in and end up starting physical relationships with people who are influential and have the ability to give great information to stories which she feels should not be the way to go about things.
It is not good because as female journalists we want to be respected, we want prominent men or sources to see the substance that comes with us wanting to do our work the right way, but their advances tend to hinder our progress in life as journalists” she states.
Women can do it
Ndapewoshali Shapwanale is an investigative reporter who finds herself having to interact with an array of male sources for news.
She highlighted that there have been occasions where these male figures have made advances towards her, but notes that she has been able to firmly make it clear to them that their advances were not welcomed.
“Communicating has saved me a lot because it has stopped these male sources and subjects from being disrespectful, damaging or insulting to my career as a female journalist.
I have always been able to communicate that the feeling was not mutual” she explained.
Although communicating is a trait Shapwanale deems important, she noted that female journalists should not have to fight male sources by constantly telling them off the minute advances become uncomfortable.
“We should not have to add on to our jobs to tell them off; they should know that it is not right to begin with. I am just lucky that it has never gotten to the point where I was ever offended by the advances because I have always been able to tell them that I was there for work and nothing else.
But for the next female journalist it might not be the same” said Shapwanale.
In what’s supposed to be a daily professional engagement in order to be able to do her journalistic work for public news consumption, has turned into a never ending process of having to constantly tell prominent men that she is not interested in their advances says Lahja Nashuuta.
“I have been in journalism for six years and when men try to flirt with me it makes getting my work done difficult because I have to tell them that I am a married women just to block their advances.
I however wish I did not have to do that because I believe that I should be respected enough as a female journalist.
Prominent men should know that work is work and it should be strictly business” she stressed.
She further noted that female journalists should be seen as humans who want to do their work and should not be seen as sex objects.
“If they can respect male journalist then we too should be respected; it should not even be up for debate. I also think that female journalists should also be serious about their jobs and not entertain these advances.We need to stand up for ourselves because if we don’t no one else will” Nasauuta concluded.
In 2013, the International Women’s Media Foundation and the International News Safety Institute released the results of an online survey asking female journalists around the world to detail the abuse they’ve experienced on the job.
Sixty-four percent of the 875 respondents said they had experienced “intimidation, threats, or abuse” in the office or in the field. Most of the abuse was perpetrated by the journalists’ bosses, superiors, and co-workers.
Forty-six percent of female journalists said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, including “unwanted comments on dress and appearance.”