There is a need for women to ‘ take a seat at the table’, a notion that was raised during the DISCOP “Women In Media” panel. The panel was facilitated by Zain Verjee, co founder and CEO of Akhona Media and consisted of Paula Madison co founder and consultant for The Africa Channel, Bongiwe Selane, Vice- Chairperson of IPO (Independent Producers Organisation), Sara Blecher, co-founder of Cinga Productions and Khanyi Magubane, a film producer broadcaster, writer, journalist and poet.
This notion was taken further by Madison, who spoke about how in order to make greater representation a reality, women needed to sit at the helm of, or even own the means of production. For as long as men are predominantly in the driver’s seat then the final product will mirror and reflect them.
This means there is a need to build the industry, not only in terms of networks, but also in terms of the way in which women engage with the industry. This idea is based predominantly on the need for women to unequivocally and consciously support other women within these spaces, essentially kicking open and then holding open the door. Because it seems one of the biggest hurdles women faced was actually getting into the industry.
Women essentially need to come through for each other, especially those in positions of power.
Madison further spoke of the need to “give other women the nod” once they become part of the higher echelons of power. Selane took the idea further by discussing her need for mentorship and how this was sorely lacking within the media industry. Citing a new organisation started by Blecher, Selane spoke about how there was little in the way of official mentorship and support structures amongst women within the industry. She emphasised the need to be able to gather and speak about the issues facing women within the industry and give support on how to overcome them.
The panel successfully highlighted how the issues women face are numerous, especially in an often (white) male dominated world. Panelists and speakers from the floor cited disrespect from peers and sexual harassment as some of the main professional hurdles women faced, some of which could be potentially career ending. Stories of everything – from being ignored to being offered hotel rooms – were brought out as examples.
The need for women to tap into the industry and to become a core part of the means of production is key if we are to change the face of African media. The depictions of women as abused, subservient, fighting each other, overly sexual or one dimensional can only be challenged if it is women controlling the narratives about themselves. As Blecher said, ‘we are 52% of the population, surely we want to see our own stories.’ As women increasingly move away from admin roles and simply being ‘the talent’, there is more space for them to fight for the stories they want, the characters they want as they become involved in how not only women’s stories, but stories in general are produced.