The newsroom at *Masons publications was opulently furnished. There were expensive pine desks, lightly colored blinds that glided in opposite directions every morning, and a rich wine-red carpet which completed the feel of opulence. The building itself was a three storey object of architectural beauty, with darkened half length windows that gleamed in the afternoon sun to passers-by who always stopped to look, mostly at the images of the magazines that were posted in the windows of the bottom floor of the building. It was a dream workplace for a village girl like myself.
I worked in the business news section on the second floor but my job bored me. I preferred to write for the main magazine which covered stories with a human interest more than the business propaganda that we regurgitated from press releases as news. It all really bored me; attending all those launch ceremonies of one product or the other, this insurance company or the other. It wasn't the food or the drinks that caused my repulse, it was that I was never viewed as a journalist but as a piece of meat; the unending offers from powerful men to buy me a house and quit my job to be their concubine, the comments on my body symmetry, how my body was sexually this or that.
Men in positions power saw me not as a professional but as a sexual object needing a way out, as that sexually attractive woman that needed to be saved from a profession and sent to where she rightly belonged, the bedroom.
In the summer of 2003, I had had enough of it so I approached one of my editors and I said I wanted to write an exposé on how men who presented themselves as well-groomed businessmen were also sexual perverts. How women were enduring incessant sexual harassment in the workplaces. My editor told me in no uncertain terms, '' you are not part of the story, remember that always, you are never, ever part of the story, your job is to report the stories.''
I was not part of the story? Which story? Whose story? I did not give up, I tried to approach the story from another angle, how female journalists were being harassed not just outside the newsrooms but also inside the newsrooms. The men in those launch parties that I attended were the same as the men that I had left behind in the newsrooms. There was a culture of sexual favours, there still is, and the men were the ones in power in the newsrooms and used that to control women. To get assigned on a good story, what we call in journalism the 'hard beats', or to ask to be promoted made you vulnerable to being harassed for sexual favors.
When I was finally allowed to write a story on sexual harassment of female journalists in the newsrooms, it came back with a misleading headline; Are women journalists worth their salt? I was furious. The story was unchanged but the headline inferred something opposite, it inferred that if women journalists were being harassed it was because they were not good enough and had to compensate with their bodies.
That story was a turning point in my life. It made me realize that women's voices are not just suppressed by men in positions of power, they are filtered and interpreted by them as well. But the story wasn't just about me, but also about the women and girls who were like me not so long before? Women whose voices would never be heard either in their households or communities. Women in places where being good for the bedroom had a literal meaning such that they spent time perfecting sexual acts - focussing only on the needs of their men and nothing of theirs- women who were made to give up their dreams. Women who were made to stay behind at home while their husbands went to cast a vote on behalf of the family in political elections.
I also realized that for women to speak we need so much more than their voices. We need them to have more choices and safe spaces. Women's voices are mostly not taken seriously, they are not considered part of the deal of women's empowerment. But I believe women's voices can be both a cause and a result of their empowerment. Women need to share their stories. They need spaces, choices and voices.
*the name of the publisher has been changed
How to Get Involved
Encourage other women to discuss issues that are important to them, if possible have your safe spaces where you are free to speak.