Journalists in Kenya report the highest rates of sexual harassment in newsrooms, according to a global media study involving 20 countries.
Gathoni Kuria’s negative experience with a supervisor at a Kenya media outlet derailed her plans for a career in journalism.
"I went to pitch an idea to him, and he was just looking at my hips intentionally, very intentionally," said Kuria. "So I am speaking to him, but he’s just looking at my hips, then going up my breast and not looking at my face.”
Kuria worked at the same media house for two years, trying to launch her career in print and broadcast. But she says rejecting sexual advances from a supervisor changed that trajectory. Her harasser wasn’t interested in her professional growth.
"He did not really care whether I published or not," said Kuria. "He did not even sweat or struggle to even tell me to go do a certain story unless I came up with an idea, and that idea would be merged with someone else’s. So, you see, I became almost like just a trophy seated at the desk.”
Kuria’s former supervisor told VOA the claims are “ridiculous” and suggested she report them to the police.
Kuria’s allegations aren't isolated, however.
Around 65% of female journalists surveyed in Kenya say they have faced physical or verbal harassment. At the country level, Kenya has the highest rate of harassment – 56% -- among the 20 countries examined in the study by the World Association of News Publishers Women in News organization and City, University of London.
The study also says that female journalists in general do not report the incidents in about 83% of cases. One way to curb the problem is to highlight it, say local advocates. Dinnah Ondari works for the Media Council of Kenya."When you give that environment and safe space for people to talk about sexual harassment, the person who wants to hide in the secrecy of it to harass their victim, of course, they will feel exposed," said Ondari.
It can be hard to find justice, too. Harassers risk being fired, but they still find work elsewhere. So, the Association of Media Women in Kenya is creating a special committee to help bring suspected attackers to court.
Judie Kaberia heads the Association of Media Women in Kenya.
“There is a case, we’ve had an intern raped at gunpoint in Kisumu, but if you look at how that case was handled, the media house sat, listened to the case, found the guy guilty and fired him," said Kaberia. "After he was fired, he went to another media house. So, the circle continues. There is no redress, there is no punishment, there is no justice for the victim.”
Kuria, for now, has abandoned her aspirations to be a reporter. But media advocates hope the Women in News study will shine a light on sexual harassment in the newsrooms and offer support for female journalists.