By IPI Contributor Maja Bresslauer

“Gender-based discrimination is deeply rooted in Nigerian society and women working in journalism are not excluded”, Nigerian journalist Tawakalit Olayemi (Badmus) Yusuf told IPI in a recent interview. Insults and threats on social media targeting women who chose to be journalists are also common.

Yusuf, a long-time broadcast journalist and media consultant who is also an IPI member, is currently executive manager of Sobi 101.9 FM radio station in Kwara state, in western Nigeria, and serves as news anchor for the radio.

According to Yusuf, discriminatory practices represent a disturbing distraction and women must learn to ignore them, to the extent possible, and keep their focus. Passion for the profession and profound dedication is what gives resilience to women working in journalism.

Looking for solutions, she highlights the need to adopt rules within journalist associations and new organisations that ensure greater equality. This would set an example.

In spite of the very lively media landscape and numerous independent media in Nigeria, covering sensitive topics, such as politics, terrorism, or abuse of power, remains dangerous. Journalists are often confronted with threats, violence, attacks or denied access to important information.

Online harassment has been a growing concern and the discriminatory culture present within society has led to increased online attacks against women journalists. While only a handful of news organisations in the country have effective practices in place to counter gendered online violence, social media platforms have proven unable to monitor and limit the spread of hate in native languages in Nigeria.

IPI spoke to Yusuf about the challenges of being a journalist in Nigeria and the strategies she has pursued.

IPI: Nigeria is a complex country to work as a journalist. What do you see as the greatest obstacles?

Journalists in Nigeria face many different challenges, especially investigative journalists, who even risk getting killed or injured as a consequence of their investigations. Journalists who cover the Boho Haram insurgency are under even greater risk.

Furthermore, a lot of people in Nigeria look down on journalists. The community tends to think that journalists are part of the “brown envelope” phenomenon, meaning that journalists would do anything and cover any story in exchange for money.

Sadly, there are journalists who actually accept bribes but that doesn’t mean that every journalist in Nigeria is like that. In fact, it is actually a small minority of journalists who lack integrity. But of course, even if you have only a few journalists accepting “brown envelopes”, it is easily generalized in the public perception and there is a tendency to see corruption as a problem of journalism in Nigeria.

It all comes down to being underpaid, which is another challenge journalists have to deal with. The pay we get isn’t commensurate with the work we do.

Finally, we don’t have the right tools to work with, which makes the work a lot harder. Most of my journalists, for example, are not tech-savvy and in some cases they can’t even handle a laptop.

IPI: Do women journalists in Nigeria face additional challenges?

As women, we face gender-based discrimination while carrying out our journalistic duties. Some media companies don’t employ women because they consider them incompetent compared to men. A recent study conducted by one of the daily newspapers showed that women face discrimination at work as a consequence of their marital status, too. There is the idea that women have no time to carry out their professional duties because they have to take care of their family, even though this is not the case for many women. Women are often asked to resign or get fired when they get pregnant.

I, for instance, am a married woman and in my office I’m the only woman executive manager. But during management meetings my opinion doesn’t count, and it’s so painful to see that just because I’m a woman in a community of men, my opinion doesn’t count. What I realized is that, whenever I express an opinion, even if they see that what I’m saying is correct, the attitude of my colleagues is like “she’s a woman! What can she say?” So, this is a very big challenge in Nigeria.

When it comes to the beat assignments, women are mostly given beats related to fashion, culinary, and the like, and those who are assigned more challenging stories, such as crime, end up getting sexually harassed. Women also have to face the stigmatization of being “loose”. As soon as you get friendly with your boss or your male colleagues, you are accused of being “loose”, which also leads to sexual harassment.

And lastly, a great challenge is that women often don’t get their well-deserved maternity leave.

IPI: Being active on social media is an integral part of journalism today. Are there any challenges that journalists in Nigeria face when operating online?

Social media indeed is a big enhancement to being a journalist. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic social media was really helpful because you could get all the information from there. Obviously not every information was accurate but it really helped. But sadly, journalists receive all sorts of attacks when they operate online. Women in particular.

For example, in 2011, I had the opportunity to work with a woman politician who was campaigning for the post of governor in my state, and she would be criticized because she is a woman. People said that she couldn’t be a governor because, for example, “she can’t join prayers”. They were using religion in order to pursue political goals.

That’s why, in 2011, I started advocating for women in leadership and every time I posted something on Facebook, I would get insulted and threatened in the comments. I remember those comments vividly. Once I was told that I would get kidnapped if I didn’t stop advocating for a woman as governor. Online harassment really is that bad.

IPI: Why did you choose to become a journalist, in spite of the numerous challenges and risks of the profession? What keeps you going?

Because it’s my passion! This is what I love to do, and I do what I have to do. All the comments and noises from my colleagues, I ignore them. I don’t get distracted from my job because it’s my passion and I know where I’m going! I’m trying to build a career and I want to own my own media house in the future, that’s why I keep going. I’m just trying to pursue my passion and do what I have to do even though it’s hard.

IPI: Looking for solutions, what can be done to ensure that women journalists are not discriminated against and silenced?

The first step would be to come up with laws that advocate for equality of both women and men. In the governing bodies of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), for example, there should be the same percentage of women and men, there shouldn’t be any disparity. I think that this would offer a guiding principle, a guiding rule that everyone will follow. And NUJ should set up a reporting mechanism, so that whenever we are confronted with discrimination, we can always report this to NUJ and they will act upon this.

Unfortunately, news organizations have not really shown any interest in changing the current situation. Change will only happen if we as women all work together as a team. We have a common voice as women. We lay out our terms. We are consistent and keep making noise, keep advocating. Only so they will take us seriously and listen.

IPI: What piece of advice would you give young journalists, based on your experience?

My passion has driven me for the last 20 years. So, if you don’t have passion for what you are doing, don’t do it. Passion is the key.

This is also what I would tell other young women journalists. If this is what you want to do then do it, don’t get distracted whatever the challenge is. Journalists should just face the challenges and, over time, they will overcome them.