When on May 12, 2021, Zoe Abu-Baidoo, a journalist with Citi FM in Ghana, received a WhatsApp message from her colleague inviting her out for lunch, it did not arouse any suspicion in her. After all, it wasn’t the first time.
What she did not know was that the person on the other side of the chat was not her colleague, Caleb Kudah, but rather a national security operative who was trying to lure her to arrest her.
It took the timely intervention from another colleague, in the media house located in the heart of Accra, to scuttle the plot, as Zoe got to know that her supposed lunch date had been arrested for filming inside a national security installation.
But uncovering the plot did little to prevent seven strong men wielding weapons to pursue Zoe from the car park of the station into its kitchen.
Zoe who struggled to dam her emotions declined recounting the story when she joined other panelists at a Conference on safety of female journalists in Ghana on Friday, October 29. This is because she was yet to recover from the trauma.
When she took her turn, Rosaline Amoh, a Deputy News Editor of the state-owned Daily Graphic, `narrated how she narrowly escaped assault in 1999 when thugs invaded her house for reporting on a Stadium renovation probe that indicted some high-profile personalities. She had to deny her identity, telling the thugs “Rosaline lives here but has travelled.”
Her small frame might have saved her, she said smiling, but that encounter sent chills down her spine as the assailants who did not know her left a message, warning her to stay away from the probe or risk being beaten to a pulp.
But a year earlier, she was not as lucky. She said she received a slap from a spectator during Ghana’s World Cup qualifier against Morocco at the Kumasi Sports Stadium for doing her job.
In the case of Doreen Ampofo of the state-owned broadcaster, Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), a case of mistaken identity during the collation of Ghana’s 2020 general elections in the Ablekuma Central Constituency in Accra nearly got her assaulted. But she sustained various degrees of injuries when she fled from her attackers who mistook her for an official of the Electoral Commission.
The horrifying experience of these female journalists was a major highlight of the one-day conference in Accra which brought to the fore the vulnerability of female journalists in the face of increasing attacks on journalists in Ghana and other parts of West Africa.
Organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) with the support of the Netherlands Embassy in Ghana and the Alliance for Women in Media Africa (AWMA), the conference forms part of activities to mark this year’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists which falls on November 2, 2021.
More than 80 active and retired female journalists attended the event in Accra, which also became a motivational session for young female journalists.
Zoe said beside female journalists facing threats and physical assault outside newsrooms in Ghana, they also had to deal with sexual harassment, which came from colleagues and superiors.
Those daring enough to demand the right tools for their work were also seen as all-knowing. This is worse for entry-level female journalists, she added.
For Doreen Ampofo, there was no form of orientation in newsrooms to raise the consciousness of journalists on safety on the field, which made female journalists in particular vulnerable.
Research shows an upsurge in attacks that undermine the safety and security of female journalists in particular across the world. Abuse against female journalists takes many forms –physical violence, entrenched behaviours (such as marginalization and hostility against them), unequal working conditions and online abuses.
These attacks have repercussions, the Programme Manager of MFWA in charge of Freedom of Expression, Muheeb Saeed, said, as he pointed out that the trends of abuse were pushing some female journalists and media workers to self-censorship, adopt lower public profile, switch beats to report on less controversial issues or even quit the profession.
“Some have also experienced psychological and physical harm as a result of some newsroom practices, inequalities/injustices, job security and sexual harassment. When women journalists are restricted or hounded out of the profession, society is denied access to a diverse range of information and perspective.”
Guest speaker for the event, Eyram Bashan, whose experience in the newsroom and management spanned more than 20 years agreed.
“Women journalists bring a unique perspective to storytelling and must be provided with the necessary tools and safety measures by their employers,” she explained.
She observed that the number of attacks on male journalists was because the media in the country was male-dominated.
She, however, said it should not mean that female journalists should not be protected even if their numbers were small.
“Male managers must understand that it is not a one-fit-all solution, there are peculiar needs of female journalists that need to be addressed but that understanding is still not there.
With female journalists complaining about sex predators in their newsrooms and dangers in the field, she urged her peers in leadership positions in the media to use their position to articulate safety for female journalists.
She was worried that some media owners would even fail to provide transportation for female journalists to and from work, leaving them in the worst form of vulnerability.
“Transportation is a basic tool for journalists without it, female journalists are stripped of all dignity.”
To empower themselves against abuse and shield themselves against exploitation, she urged women in the media to seek and negotiate properly their safety nets including insurance, Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT), job security and career development.
She also urged all female journalists to invest in their personal security and not to leave it in the hands of only their employers.
To employers, she had a caveat, “you can’t send female journalists to high-risk assignments without insuring them,” while urging the trade unions to create gender desks to fight for female journalists.
Convenor of the Alliance for Women in Media Africa (AWMA), Shamima Muslim, observed that while the country’s television and radio space now had an impressive list of women, there was still a long way toward bridging the gap of inequality.
The conference, she said was, therefore, in line with AWMA’S commitment to building a meaningful partnership that took it closer to its goal of empowering female journalists.
Contributing to the discussions, a freelance journalist, Zubaida Ismail, said female journalists working in the regions as correspondents suffered the most and were the least resourced but the least protected.
But the Business Editor of Joy News, Odelia Ntiamoah Boampong, said the antidote to the challenges facing women in the media was that women were not represented enough in terms of leadership and ownership in the media.
“More women need to put themselves up for leadership and opportunities. Once the top is populated by men, they connect our issues to the menstrual cycle and stress from having children,” she explained.
On safety, she urged her colleagues to consciously look into their environment while on the field.
“If you’re not comfortable, trust your instinct and leave,” she advised.
The conference preceded a forum on October 28 which discussed media professionalism, safety of journalists in Ghana.