FrontPage Africa’s newsroom editor learned at a conference in Zambia that the gender barriers she’s experienced in Liberia’s media are shared by female journalists in southern Africa.
Wade (pronounced “Wah-dee”) Williams, 30, is the only female news editor in Liberia’s print media. Until finding employment three years ago at FrontPage in the capital Monrovia working for progressive-minded editor-in-chief Rodney Sieh, she struggled to get the jobs and assignments she was qualified for. “I rose through the rank and file, being a cub reporter, ascending as I went on,” says Williams, who also writes investigative pieces based on hard-news reporting and work in the field. Along the way, she experienced the discrimination rampant in the Liberian news business. Women are rarely given important beats and assignments, and male editors and reporters attack their worth as journalists, Williams says.
“They tell them, ‘You are lazy.’ Instead of encouraging them to learn, they bring them down. They overlook their talent.”
Consequently, many female journalists quit the field, sometimes going into sales at the media outlets where they had worked as reporters, Williams says.
“They get discouraged about their dream of being a journalist, because they are told they can’t make it,” she says. “Being in the newsroom is tough for women. You don’t get anything on a silver platter like the men do. You have to fight three times as hard.”
Even at FrontPage, Williams faced problems from male colleagues initially, she says. “There were a lot of things they did to undermine my work. I kept pushing for what I wanted. I knew I could cover stories that the men could cover. I knew I can write any piece a man can write. I can do any investigative pieces that any male reporter can do.”
In early December, Williams was invited to Lusaka, Zambia to speak at a World Association of Newspapers conference about her experience as a female newspaper editor. There, she met southern African women in the business who had faced the same difficulties she’d experienced. One female reporter’s story was quite familiar to Williams: “When she started as a journalist they gave her assignments like press conferences, donations. She wasn’t really given serious stories to do. She wanted to do more than just the donations; she wanted to do serious stories instead of just reporting on press conferences.”
As Williams had done, that woman kept pushing for meaningful assignments, and was rewarded for her persistence and talent with the stories she’d wanted, Williams says. In Williams’ conference speech, she highlighted the need for women to aggressively pursue their goals in spite of male opposition. “I told them about how I’d been persistent in seeking what I want as a journalist,” Williams says. “I told them you should always be focused on what you want. You shouldn’t let people tell you that, ‘This is what you are good for.'”