Africa, Headlines

RIGHTS-SUDAN: Female Journalists Complain of Marginalisation

Nhial Bol

KHARTOUM, Jun 5 1998 (IPS) - Women working in Sudan’s media complain that they are bypassed when promotion time comes along and that they also suffer from other forms of marginalisation and discrimination.

The evidence is there, they say: none of editors-in-chief of the 34 private and two state-owned newspapers published here is a woman and women are hardly ever appointed editors or heads of department in papers or radio and TV stations.

Female journalists also told IPS their mainly male heads of department even decided what they should wear, requiring them to don Islamic veils while covering events.

However, a senior government official denied that there was any discrimination. “We have no designed policies or regulations against women,” said Mohamed Saad, who works in the Ministry of Culture and Information. “Women impose Islamic dress on themselves.”

There was no reason for media insitutions to discriminate against women journalists, he said, promotions depend on ability and talent. “Most of the women in the media have not been in the field for many years and the work of editors needs experience,” he explained. “How can inexperienced journalists be appointed to take such responsibilities.

But women journalists maintain that they are subjected to discrimination even if it is not sanctioned by any declared official policy, both within and outside their organisations.

Halima A. Salih, who works with the ‘Sudan Standard’ weekly, says she is always in trouble with the public order police while on assignment and that there are certain institutions where women journalists are not allowed to cover events.

Women journalists are not free to express their views in newspapers columns or in radio commentaries, she charged, adding that articles are always well checked and sometimes refused by editors.

Women are seldom promoted. Only a few are allowed to read news on the air and there is an unofficial taboo against female journalists interviewing maulanas — religious leaders.

“It is not declared that we cannot talk to Maulanas, but when we ask for interviews, their secretaries tell us that the Maulana is not ready to see you, so their views are only covered by men,” Halima said.

In an article she published last week in the state-owned ‘Sudan Standard’ weekly, Halima criticised officials’ attitudes towards women journalists.

“In May, I was asked by my editor to cover the arrival of the Malaysian Prime Minister who visited Sudan, but when I went to the airport, first the security agents prevented me from entering,” she wrote.

“I was among the men because women journalists find it hard to cover events,” Halima explained, adding that the security men had asked her not enter because she was carrying a bag and wearing light clothes.

“I then asked him to check inside the bag if he was suspicious of its contents, but he told me that he did not suspect anything but that I would not enter the VIP room,” she recalled.

Her reaction was to throw away her bag and force her way in since, if she failed to get the story, her editor might have dismissed her from her job. The security men did not pursue her but kept watching her angrily, she said.

This was not the first time she had such an experience, according to Halima. Last year, she was prevented from covering a press confenerce held by former First Vice President Major General Al Zubier Mohamed Salih because she was wearing a light- coloured Tobe, a traditional Sudanese gown.

Other female journalists who were dressed in coloured skirts, blouses and veils were allowed in, she recalled, adding: “What was the difference between their coloured dresses and my coloured tobe? Nobody knows except the security men.”

Halima feels women journalists should campaign for written regulations that protect them.

A photographer who declined to be named told IPS that she had stopped going to parliament because the security men there had told her that she could only take photos from behind the seats.

They explained to her that this was because women are not allowed to stand in front of men.

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