NIERA partners with IDinsight to host webinar on women in leadership

By Diana Meso

On Wednesday, March 23, the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA), under the School of Graduate Studies, Research and Extension (SGSRE) partnered with IDinsight to host a webinar to discuss obstacles women in leadership or women aspiring to be leaders face and how to overcome them.

Prof. Amos Njuguna (Dean, SGSRE & Chair, NIERA), presented the findings of a research study called “Gender bias and sentiment towards political leaders in Kenyan news” that he carried out with Emma Pair, Nikitha Vicas, Anne Weber, Valerie Meaussone, James Zou and Grayl Darmstadt, published in December last year.

The study aimed to find out how the media has been reporting on both men and women political leaders and how that has affected the uptake of leadership positions as well as public and political discussions by women. Data was mainly collected from the Daily Nation Newspaper (1998-2019).

Prof. Njuguna explained that research shows that gender biases can be traced back to the agrarian revolution (1750-1850) gendered labor roles, that decided what men or women should or shouldn’t do and in turn depicted women to be inferior to men.

Over time, this has nurtured a culture of negative social attitudes against women, thus causing violence against women and inadequate representation in “democratic” societies. It has also put women in a paradox; if they conform to the societal stereotyping, they are not seen as strong leaders, yet if they exemplify agentic qualities associated with sturdy leadership, they are evaluated negatively and branded as “unfeminine”.

He went on to mention that although there was an increase in number of women that got into parliament after the 2010 Kenyan constitution that aimed at ensuring gender representation, women are still underrepresented in politics and leadership roles.

Prof. Njuguna said that research by NDI shows that there are aspects of gender stereotyping and patriarchal structures propagated through the media which to some extent has contributed to the application of double standards for men and women resulting to “over cautiousness” when the women are in politics thus makes them miss out on leadership opportunities.

According to the study findings, there has been a greater relative increase in the negative sentiment surrounding females compared to males, women leaders receive less media coverage than male leaders and that when women are represented in the media, they are put in a more negative light than men. This has led to women tending to avoid media-based public discourses and instead turn to social media to reach voters as seen in the 2017 elections.

The study recommended that intentional biasness should be addressed through adherence to ethical guidelines which should be incorporated in journalism curriculums and corporate policies and programs that demonstrate the effect of biases in the press on people’s mindsets and resulting consequences on economic development.

Moderating the session, Dr. Fridah Njogu-Ndogwe, East and Southern Africa Regional Director, IDinsight concurred with Prof. Njuguna’s presentation, pointing out that in the ongoing research by IDinsight on “Formative research on women in leadership in economic, banking and financial services” in Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria and India, social economic challenges, cultural, political and policy environment, internalized biases and competing responsibilities are coming out as barriers that face women in or pursuing leadership. She further said that global and regional campaigns, national legislation and policies, internal organization policies, networking, mentorship and fellowships have eased the situation however more needs to be done.

The webinar also involved a panel discussion by Betty Sungura Nyabuto, Commission Secretary/ CEO National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC), Faith Gitonga, Country Manager, Cellulant, Dr. Katherine Kyobutungi, Executive Director, African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) and Dr. Fiona Wanjiku Moejes, Ag. CEO & Director of Programmes, Mawazo Institute.

The panelists shared their knowledge and personal experiences on what contributed to their success, gender norms that hold women back from taking leadership positions, the role of media in bridging the gender gap, actions men can take to support women in leadership, impact of having women in leadership and what policies governments in Africa can put in place to empower girls and women.

All panelists agreed that having a strong support system around them in terms of allies, families, mentors, coaches and sponsors, identifying and seizing leadership opportunities, as well as getting out of the norm, taking risks and identifying one’s purpose has contributed to their success so far.

Additionally, the following recommendations were made by the panelists:

  • Society should stop preaching that women cannot support each other.
  • Media should report and air programs on how men can work together with empowered women.
  • Women should be supported so that they can strike a balance between being mothers and wives at home as well as leaders in the work place at the same time.
  • When women are in leadership, they speak to gender balance policy, fair play, uniformity in decision making and protecting the younger generation.
  • Policies including Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM), sexual harassment should be put in place to ensure women are comfortable at work.
  • There is a need to change the current negative mindset around empowering women.
  • We should strike a balance between empowering men and women so that the society can move in tandem.

Social Media