African Women and the Mass Media

  • Sharon Adetutu OmotosoEmail author
Living reference work entry


The discourse on African women and the mass media is both multifaceted and multidimensional. On one hand, the term “African Women” is such a monolithic and fluid concept which defies a singular study approach; on the other hand, the mass media in its holistic sense continues to experience transitions over decades. Amidst the known and hidden complexities, this chapter provides an overview of African women’s lives, roles, and challenges, both as media consumers and as media producers. The chapter explores the positions of women as media consumers, their products as media producers, whether production is commensurate with consumption, and what should be the place of media and cultural conservation. By historically and critically analyzing the interactions of African women with the media and through the media, this chapter concludes that Afrocentric Africanism must be embraced by African women in media content production, consumption, and conservation if predefined feminist communicative objectives must be achieved for the benefit of all women and media stakeholders in Africa.


African women Afrocentric Africanism Mass media Women for media development 


In her 1982 article titled “African Women” Margaret Strobel recognized African women as conscious actors, and not necessarily as victims or those acted upon. While supporting her claims with examples from across Africa in economy, religion, ideology, sexuality, and politics, Strobel (1982a) presented a uniform identity of African women with pockets of examples from across the continent. She later affirmed in another article that “not enough is known about African women to permit such a level of debate at present…. Even if we had much more information than we do now, generalization about the history of women in Sub-Saharan Africa,…would be difficult” (Strobel 1982b: 509–510). Literature has since established diversities and multiplicities of identity restraining generalizing and/or essentializing African women as a single entity with uniform description. Hence, new questions, perspectives, and categories of analysis are emerging. First, by locational classification “African Women” could be females born into African communities; second, by biological classification, females born by either or both African parents, within and outside the shores of Africa may also be described as African women. Third, non-African females married to men of African descent may also be called African women. Fourth, females who by association have lived in Africa and have embraced African cultural identities may also be called African women. Without ignoring the fact that each of these categories has implications, it is also pertinent to establish that the term “women in Africa” could be characteristically different from whatever is understood as “African women.” For instance, while the third and fourth categories above could be described as women in Africa, women resident outside Africa, though belonging to the first and second categories may be African women but within this context, not women in Africa. As Beck (1998: 140) notes that “even a concept as basic as “woman” is riddled with cultural codes conveyed and interpreted in the various media texts we encounter on a daily basis.” Njoroge resonates the conflicts by averring that “…the definition of an African woman conjures images of starvation, illiteracy, and oppression; she is someone to be pitied, she screams development aid and should appreciate that the world is coming to her rescue.” Njoroge sets the tone for this chapter by raising the question: “how can we blame the world when their knowledge of Africa is through very narrow lenses of war reporting, and books written by others?” (Njoroge 2017).

The media of mass communication has been variously described as the totality of communication institutions, techniques, and technological devices used for disseminating impersonal symbolic content and messages (Oloko 1996) to large dispersed publics, as apparatuses that “come in-between” or mediate between a large and heterogeneous audience (Nyabuga 2012) via various means including radio, television, Internet, and social media among others for communication and information (Rugh 2007; Omotoso 2018). The mass media is also saddled with roles including surveillance, education, history, and entertainment (Shore 1980; Ibrahim 1983; Omotoso 2007; Oso and Omotoso 2009). It is pertinent to note that as much as the concept “mass media” gives a universal outlook, regional variances contribute to their exclusivities and array of their functions. On mass media differences and influences, Omotoso (2018a) discusses how African media differs from media in Africa and how global-local, national-regional interactions define mass media’s nature (Omotoso 2018b). Hence, the existence of global mass media does not dismiss local and regional mass media, just as global-local interactions of the mass media have influenced and continues to shape mediascapes.

Without ignoring earlier discussions on women’s participation in Africa’s development (Osineye 1989; Awe 1989), this study conceives African women as female members of African communities who hold such identities by birth, marriage, naturalization, or association. In the same vein, the mass media would be described as the totality of all medium of communications conventional and new, being used to disseminate information and connect peoples across the world. Salient issues will be raised within different sections of the media ranging from journalism, advertising, public relations, and social media practices. Since the title of this chapter reckons with possibilities of boundless mass media influences by not foreclosing media scope to Africa, it opens a discourse on African women as players in the media; as subjects of mass media and as determinants of the future of mass media. The chapter will be structured into four sections; following this conceptual prologue, section II contains historical reflections on African women in the media. Section III critically analyzes concepts such as women in media development, women for media development, and women as media developers to troubleshoot consumption-production-conservation nexus, between African women and the mass media. Section IV concludes the chapter.

African Women in the Mass Media Historically

Communication in traditional Africa was largely endogenous and community-based employing symbols, signs, and values as communicative tools. These tools could be instrumental, demonstrative, iconographic, extra-mundane, and institutional (Ansu-Kyeremeh 1998) aiding interpersonal and group communications ranging from families and neighborhoods to market-places and village squares (Oreh 1980). The media forms including objectifics, color schemes, idiophones, aerophones, membranophones, music, dance, proverbs, and so on (Wilson 1987; Akpabio 2003; Osho 2010) were used to inform, enlighten, and entertain, communicating social, economic, and political issues among the people. Omotoso (2018d: 206) further explains that “the symbolic, linguistic, metaphysical and moral values of [traditional media forms such as proverbs and objectifics] for political communication in the …democratic sphere embedded moral, spiritual and patriotic constituents [and] provide viable platforms for their re-enactment into current political settings.”

Scholarship documents some of these traditional media forms as sexist in many African societies, for instance, approving only of males as town-criers and transmitters of other authoritative news, identifying males with the use of communicative tools such as gongs and drums which were rarely used by women (Oloko 1996). Rumor-mongering, although a means of communication was largely attributed to women in a negative sense, as widely portrayed in stage plays, theater presentations. The colonial era saw the introduction of conventional media in form of newspapers, radio, and television which became powerful weapons mainly for colonialists. In recognition of the power of these conventional media (newspapers, radio, and television), colonial rulers were selective with information disseminated to natives. Ndlovu (2015) shares the Zimbabwean experience where women were exposed to educational programs including caring for children, educating the girl child, but not necessarily about political participation or activism. In Nigeria, Angola, and South Africa, women had limited knowledge of the conditions of colonial oppression, “instruction was religious and oriented towards helping the girls to become better mothers and housewives” (Osineye 1989), hence an undermining of women’s suffering and agency (Norita 2017). Sharing from Tanzania, Mlama (1994: 51) avers that “… women constitute mere listeners to development messages imposed on them by people who ‘talk to’ them, rather than engage them in genuine communication.” Equally with limited knowledge of politics, women entered the Guinean liberation struggle for complex reasons including freedom from Portuguese colonial system and from traditional social structures and beliefs which repressed them (Ly 2014). Sadly, media stereotypes associating women with the political space since colonialism connects with roles of women in ideological constructions (Goerg 2011), but not necessarily as players at the fore front of such ideologies. One may then surmise that media in colonial Africa sought to educate women and not necessarily to mobilize them for societal impacts (Awe 1989).

Just as the question of identity arises within discourses on African women, similar identity issues arise with the mass media in Africa. In this regard, Frere (2012: 1) asks “which Africa is this? Or which Africas are these?” recognizing distinctions between the media in English and French-speaking sub-Saharan countries. Frere observed “relative compartmentalization” of media research in Africa, wherein

English-speaking Africa (a generic term used to refer to former British colonies in Africa) and French-speaking Africa (former French or Belgian colonies) have developed starkly contrasted media systems. …in the structuring of the media market, the journalism style and the function attributed to it, the media’s relations with the authorities, the approach of community radios, as well as legal and regulatory frameworks. (Frere 2012: 2)

Similarly and specifically, McLaughlin and Carter (2001) identify language divide created by colonial histories that have divided Africa into Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone blocs as a critical gap in gender and media studies. Interestingly, Frere found that language issues, global media influences, ownership issues, ethics, and regulatory frameworks are common themes among the media in Africa, neglecting gender issues and specifically, issues of women in the media. As wide-ranging as media operations and experiences are, African women in the media likewise have their diverse experiences embedded within similar themes, exemplified in challenges and prospects. Hofstede (2009: 1) notes that a “relatively unexplored field is” the application of the term “culture” “to the genders, to generations, or to social classes” and in fact to media. On this, Fiske affirms that “what passes for reality in any culture is the product of that culture’s codes,…so ‘reality’ is always already encoded, it is never ‘raw’.” In the same vein, reality as packaged by the media is contextual and culture-dependent, hence Fiske’s (1987) view that concepts are culturally defined and perpetuated in part by media texts. Each of Frere’s (2012) findings earlier identified has implications for women. Following the cultural dimension, Hofstede (2009: 7) affirms that “taboos are based on deeply rooted values; [which] shows that the Mas/Fem dimension in some societies touches basic and often unconscious values, too painful to be explicitly discussed.” In this regard, language plays vital roles, determining media framings, media participation, and cross-fertilization of ideas among feminist media practitioners and other stakeholders in Anglophone, Francophone, and Lusophone Africa. Global media influences connect with dynamics and philosophical underpinnings of program transmission as well as the limit and limitlessness of geographical and culture transfer reach to targeted and untargeted populace. Ownership issues, ethics, and regulatory frameworks reckon with the interest of media owners and media controllers, all of which are issues in mediascapes (Omotoso 2018b), each having strong implications for women’s lives.

Women’s Representation in the Media: Visibility, Portrayal, and Influence

The 2005 Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) report paints a gloomy picture of gender representation in the media. The report indicates that women are grossly underrepresented in the news, with only 21 percent of news subjects being female. In the report, women’s points of view are rarely heard as part of the themes that dominate the news agenda. This is also reflected in the number of professional women in the media – only 37 percent of news items are reported by women journalists (Gallagher 2005). As at 2015, the GMMP report did not record significant improvements in terms of women’s portrayal, visibility, and influence.

In 2015, progress towards news representation that acknowledges women’s participation in economic life remains elusive. Only 37% of stories in newspapers, television and radio newscasts are reported by women. Female television presenters slightly outnumber their male colleagues. However, the overall statistic in relation to presenters on radio and television is just below parity, at 49%. During the period 2005–2015 the only category in which portrayals of women as survivors has risen – by more than four times – is as survivors of domestic violence. (GMMP 2015: 2–4)

Women’s engagements with media in colonial era across Africa were unprecedented as women organized themselves into groups and unions having gained more political awareness, pressuring government through various media. Records exist of Madam Alimotu Pelewura, Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, and Lady Oyinka Abayomi in Nigeria (Johnson-Odim 1998); Adelaide Casely-Hayford in Sierra-Leone, Charlotte Maxeke of South Africa, Huda Sha’rawi from Egypt among others recognized for speaking truth to power and positively impacting their communities via available platforms including mass media (Agunbiade and Akiode 2017). Considerable increase in women’s access to education transformed postcolonial media spaces as women began to form labor associations and pressure groups such as the (Uganda Media Women’s Association (UMWA) & Fredrich Ebert Siftung (FES) 1998) and Nigerian Association of Women Journalists among others. Bhasin and Agarwal (1984) note that the 1960s- and 1970s-women’s groups responded to their negative portrayal in the mainstream media by establishing media monitoring and social action groups. The rise of women’s movements attempting to transform social institutions by campaigning for gender equality in the 1980s became a turning point in awareness of women’s rights. Provision was made for employment equity, federal character principles, and affirmative actions among others in the constitutions of some states. For instance, such a provision in Nigeria’s constitution gave birth to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs in 1988 (WORDOC Newsletter 1988), coupled with increased political appointments and public service employments for women. Similarly, the establishment of Nigerian Association of Women Journalist saw more women gain employment and leadership in media industry. By 1998 in South Africa, Section 20 of the Employment Equity Act (RSA 1998) sought to ensure that all government departments implement affirmative action measures for people from designated groups (blacks, women, and people with disabilities) (Republic of South Africa 1998).

African women participated and do participate in grassroot communication, which Calda (1988: 2) describes as those communication processes guided by the goals of education for liberation that “help the poor and underprivileged acquire a critical understanding of social reality.” Since this transition, women and human rights activists in the media brought the challenges faced especially by women in rural areas to limelight. Among these are neglect, gender violence, discrimination, and other obnoxious practices encouraged by patriarchy and poverty. They also cover gender-based violence and violation of women and the girl child especially trafficking and rape. While women in media have contributed single-handedly to the emancipation of women, “some have collaborated with international organizations like the UNDP to ensure wider coverage of women-related issues and the creation of gender-friendly programming to provide valuable support to initiatives aimed at enhancing the socio-political livelihood of women” (UNDP in Nigeria). The media have equally provided the platform for many feminist organizations to launch their campaigns against women and the girl child discrimination. Accordingly, projects such as Girl Power Initiative in Cross River State of Nigeria have created “radio programs-notably the Girl Power Initiative which is presented by female broadcasters and which is deeply concerned with the issue of women’s empowerment and emancipation” (Endong 2017: 175). It is also worthy to note that since the attainment of independence by most African states, women have been making impacts in the media and through the media. For instance, in 2017, a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called “Code for Africa” awarded three outstanding female journalists with an all-expenses paid tour to major newsrooms in the United States for raising awareness on underreported issues affecting women and girls, using data and social media to create high impact features that resulted in real world change such as lessening the burden of grandmother-led households in South Africa (Impactafrica 2017).

Taking stock of the journey so far, so much has been done while much more remains undone. Despite the enormous efforts put towards African women’s emancipation through the media, can it be said that women are engaging with the media or are they being used by the media? This long-standing question continues to rear its ugly head over decades, raising questions of visibility, portrayal, and influence of African women, in the media and through the media. The media mostly present impractical and unhealthy images of women. To this, several scholars have affirmed strong media influences on women’s images and personalities by responding with evidences blaming media for most social problems of modern nations (especially Africa) including the relatively unfavorable portrayal of women (Oloko 1996) as importers of a lunatic fringe of academic middle-class “bra-burners” (Sofola 1991), blaming women for developing unhealthy societal trends and prescribing features for ideal womanhood (Edoga-Ugwuoju 1984; Yodanis 2002). On issues of visibility or invisibility, Franberg et al. (2012: 9) refer to Magritte’s (1929) metaphoric painting titled “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” [This is not a pipe], which is “often interpreted as pointing out that the painting is not a pipe but an image of a pipe” to reveal a wide range of media representation of women as helpless, out-of-control-on-the-Internet, foolish innocents who invite sexual predation (Frånberg et al. 2012). Would it then be agreeable to say that women are visible in the media? Or, are public perceptions of women merely a creation of the media? For Goffman (1979), women’s photographs in media often resonate irrelevance (where they are not relevant to the situation or report but are presented only for decoration) and incomplete information, where little or no information is provided of the women in such photographs. More recent trends have accused the media of unequal treatment of female politicians. Across Africa, most media portrayal of women in politics are sexist and noninclusive; utilizing negative adjectives and imagery to stereotype women in politics; making issues of their private lives, dressing, and physical appearance; and failing to disseminate their perspectives on political issues such as finance and defense, where their male counterparts are usually consulted. Much more have been said and written about media portrayal of African women both within global and local contexts; earlier noted is women being “visibly invisible” in the media (Omotoso 2018c: 72). How then may discourses of African women and the media be pursued? While not ignoring multiplicity in nature of such discourses, the next section will take a development approach to critically analyze salient issues.

Women in Media Development, for Media Development, and as Media Developers

It is often asserted that the media is critical to women’s development (Okello-Orlale 2006), what is largely downplayed is the fact that women have also been critical and remain critical to media development. This section intends to troubleshoot consumption-production-conservation nexus, between African women and the mass media by critically analyzing what “women in development,” “women for development,” and “women as media developers” imply for contemporary media discourses. As a widespread approach focused on integrating women into policies and practices within development processes, Women in Development (WID) produced political strategies and analytical evaluations by showing the positive synergies between investing in women and reaping benefits in terms of economic growth. Africa in the postcolonial era has maintained this same expectation within issues of women in media development (Collier 1988; Razavi and Miller 1995). The recognition of women’s rights to receive education and access to equal treatment brought by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW 1979) and the recommendations from the United Nations Decade for Women provided a viable platform for women in media development.

Women contributed to media development in their service as staff, as content producers, and as consumers; being fans of selected mass media and media programming. They also brought along their “indigenous knowledge, oral tradition and informal communication practices and networks” (Riano 1994: 45). One could connect with Riano’s (1994: xii) two part dialogue on “the role of women in communication” [mass media] and grassroot participation, and the role the media plays “in activating women’s alternatives for change,” to expound how women as social actors opened new spaces for political action. With reference to content production, Riano (1994: xi) describes how women in developing countries “came together to voice their concerns, name who they are, share and build projects of change by creating communication spaces that involve speaking, writing, dancing, meeting, storytelling, media production, and networking.” Women in media have been the voices for women political empowerment; they have through their programs presented the platform for publicity for female politicians. Janet Mba Afolabi, a Nigerian Female journalist, has been one of the people advocating for the political inclusion of Nigerian women. She had particularly stated in an interview that “the Nigerian women deserve chance to prove themselves” ( thereby demanding they be given the opportunity to do so. Not only is Mba a verbal advocate for women emancipation, she runs an empowerment program for women and girl-child and also grants scholarships for the education of the girl child ( The Women’s Research and Documentation Center (WORDOC) has also been a voice in this regard since 1987 and the center currently runs public enlightenment and advocacy programs on politics and sustainable development issues in selected media across Nigeria.

In the health sector, for instance, female media practitioners are always particular about running documentaries on women and hygiene and have remained resolute to ensure a healthy standard of living for women especially grassroots women through their broadcast. Thus, Pontsho (2017), in a health report entitled “Free to Bleed: the Struggle of being too poor to Afford Pads,” exposed the challenges often encountered by poor girls during their menstruation period, including inabilities to purchase sanitary pads thus rendering the girls vulnerable to diseases and other health issues informed by the poor sanitary conditions they are exposed to, especially those in the public schools. Pontsho’s story ignited recommendable reactions from the public who joined in urging the South African government to issue free sanitary towels to public school girls (Impactafrica 2017) and won her the recognition for best communication impact. Although this approach could be applauded for the inclusion of women in media activities, it could also be accused of mounting undue pressure on women and questioning the effectiveness and efficiency of their contributions.

Women for Media Development

As much as women have been interested in media development, their primary expectation is how they could leverage on media power to facilitate their own development. With this focus, they have invested much in terms of human and capital resources. Women have courted the media to speak truth to power, call States to action, and to mobilize for female participation in politics and leadership. While women hope to reap the dividends of these processes, the prevalent patterns show that the mass media has been instrumentalizing African women to develop itself in varying capacities. This is affirmed by the 2015 GMMP Report which notes that “across the six GMMP function types or roles in which people appear in the news, the largest stride in closing the gender gap is in people interviewed based on personal experience.” The report explains further that:

Women comprise 38% of personal experience providers now compared to 31% in 2005. The percentage of women as persons giving testimony based on direct observation has stood still at 30% over the past 10 years. An insignificant two percentage point increase in women as experts was achieved during the period, leading to the current 19% share, almost similar to women’s proportion as persons interviewed as spokespersons (20%)…. (GMMP 2015: 1)

Here, the media utilizes women’s experience and expertise to give credence to their reportage and programming, which in most cases are targeted more at strengthening media organizations and not necessarily womenfolk. Beginning with journalism, fake and unidentified news sources, lack of attention for diversity, stereotypes and skewed reportage, sensational coverage including language loading, lack of context, and deceptive headlines have been used with women as subjects, while the media boost organizational popularity and public acceptance. This is exemplified in the rate at which gender-based violence including rape and defilement reports in dailies demean women and the girl-child rather than attacking the menace being reported. With regards to radio programming, Sanga (1996) notes that radio plays in Tanzania reinforce dependency syndrome laced with sexism and portraying women as objects of male pleasure and violence. In advertising, Omotoso (2013: 12) notes that “what stakeholders in the advertising industry refer to as utilitarian is nothing but ethical egoism.” The former holding that the agent should choose that act or rule which will tend to produce the greatest good for the agent choosing and the latter holding that moral value of an agent’s choice lies in the (real or probable) outcome of that choice. “The striking difference between utilitarianism and ethical egoism is that the latter restricts the good to be pursued or maximized to that of the agent, while the former extends the goal to be pursued or maximized to the greatest number” (ibid). By these, advertising practitioners may be morally mute (Bird and Waters 1989) or morally blind (Drumwright and Murphy 2004) such that issues including sexploitation of women in advertising creatives are either downplayed or totally ignored. The foregoing corroborates Beck’s (1998: 142) assertion that “mass communication is still driven by the bottom line and supported by the advertising industry which has a lot at stake in maintaining the dominant cultural codes. Women’s increased presence in the field has not been powerful enough to overcome the need to make a profit.”

The idea of women for media development ought to focus on deliberate efforts to position women not as means to an end but as ends in themselves within media activities. It suggests a de-emphasis of media egoism where sensationalism, sexploitation, and objectification sell and call for responsible media, sensitive to the needs and aspirations of all stakeholders, including women.

Women as Media Developers

The 1985 World Conference on women in Nairobi held to increase the understanding of states on women’s needs, and it marked the beginning of bringing women’s activities into limelight and provided specific mechanisms for measuring women’s progress (Zinsser 1990). It marked the emergence of notable media organizations including Tanzania Media Women’s Association (Tripp 2003). Matters from post-Nairobi 1985 UN Women’s Conference propel Okello-Orlale (2006: 51) to affirm that “the nexus of women, the media and development was finally being recognized as a central element of local, national and international action in research, policy-making, funding and other areas.” To this end, Okello-Orlale proffers the need for women’s access to ICTs and the media, freedom of expression, and unhindered participation of women in decision-making processes within media houses. Such argument is hinged on the view that “if global information and communication systems have turned the world into a ‘global village’, then the majority of people around the world are not equal members and participants of this global village, neither as consumers or producers” (Okello-Orlale 2006: 51). How this has played out in recent trends of women as content developers or content consumers in Africa must be examined. Scholars including Nassanga (2002), Okunna (2005), and Morna and Ndlovu (2008) have established “gendered inequalities in the media industry” (Gadzekpo 2011: 403). On the one hand, media productions involve skills for representing themes, arguments, and characters. On the other hand, media consumption involves processes in which various media of mass communication are organized for use. Riano (1994: 49) describes women as “active consumers” who “interpret and read communicative messages, obtain entertainment and derive relevant information.” The questions are: are women merely media consumers? If the answer is in the negative what do women in the media produce? Is production commensurate with consumption? Using Tanzania as case study, Mlama (1994: 53) observes “a conceptualization that restricts communication to foreign mass media” while “the media indigenous to African communities… do not constitute communication for development.” This is reinforced by “a general belief among development and communication agents that women are inactive in the process of communication for development,” thereby relegating them to “mere listeners to those who ‘talk to them’, rather than engage them in genuine communication” (Mlama 1994: 51). From this, Mlama recognizes the salience of indigenous communication such as dance and other theatrical performances if African women must participate as media producers and not just as consumers. Since then, Okello-Orlale affirm that:

African women’s organizations working in the area of gender and media, such as Gender Links, Tanzania Media Women Association (TAMWA), Inter Press Service, Agenda, FEMNET, and AWC…have been involved in training journalists and produced training manuals that have … changed to a small degree how the media treat women’s issues in male dominated areas such as reporting parliament, business, globalization, environment, courts and HIV/AIDS, among others. (Okello-Orlale 2006: 65)

Such changes have reflected in the creation and proliferation of women focused columns, programs, ethics-conscious, and gender-sensitive advertisements across the media in Africa. A case in point was how the creative and exciting “Mama na Boy” advertisement of a multinational telecommunication organization in Nigeria was recalled in early 2000s for being gender insensitive within African contexts. To this, Omotoso (2017: 57) points out a snag in content production. She notes that “even the translated versions of news are highly distorted, and content adulterated due largely to negligence in the mastery of African languages.”

It is also worthy to note that widening of new and social media has not only altered mediascapes in Africa, it has also changed women’s media production focus. As against the male dominated newsrooms, exploitative advertising industry and bogus public relations practices, women are turning to blogging, independent TV productions, YouTube Channels, women focused radio broadcasting, and feminine-based print media productions. The shift in women’s media focus, from old to new media, is not without their push and pull factors. For instance, push factors include women-unfriendly editorial policies, ethical issues, sustainability, job security issues, and competition. Women as media producers are pushed out of conventional media into new media having realized how their progress and job satisfaction has been delayed despite hazards of sexual harassment to which they are often exposed, recent job insecurity which caught up with most conventional media since the proliferation of new and social media and the increasing rat race in media activities. The pull factors include economy, time management, exposure, and education. The fact that women can now hold profitable media businesses at their convenience, coupled with improved access to education culminating into women’s exposure to global best practices in media production, has pulled women into media productions within the ambits of new media. In an AFP report titled “Young Women Changing the Face of African Media” (2018), a group of women from Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, and South Africa agree that women’s embrace of digital media in Africa is laudable, particularly, due to the nonhierarchical nature of social media. According to Nnoli from Nigeria, “because of the advent of social media… you can actually have your show without necessarily trying to get some infrastructure. Now with your mobile phone you can actually start your talk show.”

Checking on women’s media competencies in the light of production shifts, a trend is noticeable. As the number of female bloggers, digital media practitioners, digital marketers, and women in online media networks in Africa keep increasing, contents of interest to most women in digital media have stayed predictable: fashion, marriage, sexuality, entrepreneurship, and jokes. These are not strong enough to influence issues at policy-making spheres as against politics, economy, parenting, and technology which attracts less attention despite their influential worth. This is captured by an earlier assertion that: “Africa is not living in her own world, considering dispositions of media users on the continent, who largely consume foreign content and produce meager knowledge from its local content for the world to consume. This carried over from conventional media into new media has spill-over effects on portrayal and interpretations of women” (Omotoso 2018: 68).

Seeing that content is key in media production, it is critical for women to link media consumption, production, and conservation. Having discussed media content consumption and production, how is conservation connected? Media content conservation by women and for women is a deliberate effort to efficiently and effectively retain valuable contents within the media regardless of external influences. African communities possess and protect certain ideals embedded as either cultural particulars or universals which are “unique attributes that foster and sustain healthy relationships in African systems” (Omotoso 2017: 55). These values are ethical principles which “define the African person, …an African outlook to life within and outside the African soil, [and] ignites the passion for goodness….” (p. 55). Such contents tagged “valuable” provide modest presentations of concepts and acts such as goodness, truth, objectivity, fairness, justice, and so on, based on widely accepted African ethical dispositions embedded in concepts such as Ubuntu, Isirika, Ujamaa, Omoluwabi among others, as against values from other worldviews. Ubuntu, a concept from Southern Africa literarily imply that “a person becomes a person through other persons” (Lötter 1997: 46). “Shared by many indigenous peoples in sub-Saharan Africa under different names,” it emphasizes communalism, solidarity, and universal human interdependence (Gade 2012: 486). Isirika is a concept from East Africa, signifying equal generosity. Isirika elucidates a lifestyle of charity, service, and philanthropy, calling for those who have more to give more (Kanyoro 2018). Omoluwabi is a concept from West Africa targeted at defining being-ness, peaceful co-existence, responsibility, and self-discipline. It is a virtuous lifestyle of honor, dignity in labor, respect for others, and dedicated commitment to community development (Kehinde 2016). These values must be conserved for their intrinsic benefits to society. For instance, Ubuntu is instructive for gender relations, as it affirms the need for complimentarity among men and women; Isirika seeks to ensure that fair distribution of resources and Omoluwabi seeks to produce responsive and responsible citizens. Doing diligence to the conveyance of such values to African women in practical and comprehensible terms through the media will aid the prevention of injury, decay, waste, and loss experienced by African women. It is also crucial for African women to address existing lapses in the promotion of women’s rights as human rights through media contents. To achieve this, Afrocentric Africanism must be imbibed by African women in the media. This can be understood within two contexts: first, of Afrocentric Africanists who are not based in Africa, but make scholarly contributions about African and for Africa; and second, of Afrocentric African Scholars, people of African origin who believe in the essence, existence and efficacy of African models and thoughts which may be applied to issues of African women and the media. Afrocentric Africanism within contexts of media production, consumption, and conservation proffers that African women must embrace Afrocentric Africanism in their interactions with and within the media. This resonates with the call to decolonize the media via “careful interpretation, deconstruction and reconstruction of images and identities of women” (2018e: 77), and a search for “well-thought-out fundamental principles to communicate ethics and maintain ethical communication on the basis of pure values underlying African societies” (Omotoso 2017: 60).

The onus is on African women in media to conserve and disseminate values which have served and do serve to protect justice, equality, freedom of expression, and participation of women in governance for sustainable development. The whole essence of discussing African women and the media is to ensure that women are positively visible and sufficiently present in the media (both conventional and new media) to create, re-create, promote, and sustain values which fairly and accurately portray women as equal players in continental development and as a community that must take their rightful place in media content production and conservation of issues critical to policy influence and change in beliefs and attitudes.


This chapter began by identifying the multifaceted description of African women as well as the relative compartmentalization of media, which hampers media participation and cross-fertilization of ideas among feminist media practitioners and other stakeholders across Africa. A historical sojourn into media representation and portrayal of women reflecting sexism and noninclusiveness and evasion of women’s perspective in pertinent national, regional, and continental issues was also discussed. A new trend of women’s adherence to soft media content, rather than more engaging contents including economic and socio-political issues, was discovered. Having established the need for African women in media to create content which communicate and entrench indigenous values, the chapter equally harped on the need to also conserve value-laden media content. Emerging trends from African women’s embrace of digital media shows that the critical mass of women in media has reclined to content recycling and consumption rather than content creation and conservation. On this, Omotoso (2018c: 69) notes that “just as patriarchy pervaded conventional media, new media has also been infected….women are not working hard enough to take their place in new media production, dissemination and inculcation.” These have accordingly empowered new media to reinforce “idleness, insolence, self-conscious rather than value conscious women” (p. 71). Among emerging trends is the challenge of media education to women and girls, “demystifying and revealing ideological mechanisms of the media industry, deconstructing media images and contents to make sense of alternative meanings embedded therein” (Omotoso 2018f: 5). The emergence of fake news pervading the media calls for scrutiny, specifically, of its impacts and implications on women and girls (Omotoso 2018f). There is also the prevalence of political sidetracking of women in elective positions (except in a few African states), just as the questions of women’s visibility versus impact (critical mass vs. critical acts) must also be examined (Isike 2018). How women may create local content for global influence through proverbs, folklores, dance among others to communicate politics (Omotoso 2018d), exemplary leadership, and good governance (Omotoso 2013a) must also come to the attention of all stakeholders. Since the significance of media in human history cannot be overemphasized, specifically in their roles of aiding interactions of cultures in global urbanization projects African women as custodians of culture must judiciously cultivate the media through rethought and rejuvenated cultural values from their communities for sustainable development in Africa.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Women’s Research and Documentation Center (WORDOC), Institute of African StudiesUniversity of IbadanIbadanNigeria

Section editors and affiliations

  • Sharon A. Omotoso
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of African StudiesUniversity of IbadanIbadanNigeria

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