Harnessing the muted youth voices for good of our country

Monday September 9 2019

Emilly Comfort Maractho

Emilly Comfort Maractho 

By Emilly Comfort Maractho

On August 31, we at Uganda Media Women’s Association (UMWA) and our members gathered at Hotel Africana in Kampala. Under the leadership of Dr Patricia Litho, our board chairperson and Ms Margaret Ssentamu Masagazi, the executive director, we wanted to discuss the fast changing political, social and economic landscape and what it means for female journalists. We also wanted to just meet, share and bond.
Like most of those times when we have gathered, it was a great day. For the first time, we had more young female journalists and some students. The moderator was a recent graduate from my department at Uganda Christian University.
The speakers were equally young but more passionate about their subject and delivered powerful messages to all of us, moving some people to near tears with their incredible stories.
It was refreshing to hear fresh voices, new perspectives and see determined faces of young people, not the usual seemingly unserious ones.
Ms Anne Muhangi did justice to the day as a guest speaker, bringing all the pieces together. Her practical approach to dealing with public space for women was admirable.
Too often, people assume that young people are lost, and have no clue where they are headed, most of them far too empty headed to do anything useful.
Everyone has this or that complaint about those from universities. A meeting like this should have been attended by those who dismiss young people so easily, too quickly.
I left the meeting feeling hopeful. I often get reminded about the loss of interest in gender and women’s issues by most stakeholders, the diluted passion for women’s empowerment and the general backlash from those who insist that gender equity or equality is a western construct with no place in our context and culture.
They argue that our women have their place in society and there is no need to get them out of where they have been ‘happy’ for decades, until the Eurocentric apologists peeped into our lives. Some of those voices are in the media.
UMWA has been working on shaping the media landscape towards gender sensitive reporting and empowering female journalists to tell stories of impact since its formation in 1997.
We have engaged many media houses, men and women, but place additional responsibility on female journalists to be deliberate about the need to change some of the narratives, challenging conventional wisdom on gender and existing stereotypes through mentorship and training.
Clearly, this is paying off in some ways if the panel discussion we had with Lima, Sandra and Eunice is anything to go by.
It is easy to think that we are speaking the same language, that because we are women our drama is the same, and that automatically have the spirit of sisterhood. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It is important to keep engaging in order to appreciate our diversity in age, education, exposure and experience as human beings.
There is something liberating about sitting back and listening in. A number of issues came up. The young people talked about the need to cover stories that uplift women, stories of positive impact and giving women’s issues integral space.
They also talked about how women do not support other women (to which I shall return). It was amazing hearing the kind of individual projects these young women are engaged in, their attitude to life and the sheer commitment to hard work.
Lima Bettina a former radio journalist, now a consummate farmer; Sandra Nabagala, the beauty Queen who is a farmer and Woodball champion and Eunice Kasirye, the former, NBS News editor now Chapter Head for the International Association of Women in Radio and Television in Uganda.
I was very proud of them. I learnt that many young people have muted voices, but given a chance can shine. We have to harness those voices.
They have grown up in a world where so much is happening all the time, adults are too busy to hear them out, and there is just not enough space for them to participate meaningfully in adult issues like democracy and development.
It is partly for that reason we had wanted to discuss the implication of these political, economic and social changes for young women in journalism and media.
Sitting on the board of UMWA has exposed me to many of the challenges of young women in journalism and media.
It has given me perspective into the media industry. What I am pleased about, is that these young people have brought life into the concepts of invited and claimed spaces.
They recognise their challenges, which they think few of us are paying attention to. And they move on to claim their space. Unlike most of our generation of women who waited to be invited into public spaces, these young people are confident to claim it. We will dismiss them at our own peril.
If they keep going, they will go the distance we failed to and positively change the narrative.