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Barriers to Women Journalists in Rwanda Research Report



Barriers to Women Journalists in Rwanda is a study that identifies obstacles hindering women from entering and progressing within Rwanda’s journalism industry. The findings of this report identify the strategies and interventions that will promote
gender equality for women journalists in Rwanda, at various career levels. The aims and objectives of this study was broken down into three research questions.

Research Questions

  1. What are the lived experiences of women in journalism in Rwanda in terms of the barriers of entry and staying in the profession?
  2. Why do these barriers exist?
  3. How are and might these barriers be challenged in a way that results in an increase in the number, retention and progression of women journalists in Rwanda?

The study aims to provide;

  • A review and summary of existing research on gender and media in Rwanda, including identified gaps in research (what
    is missing in terms of research on gender and media).
  • An analysis of data gathered through the questionnaire and key informant interviews.
  • Recommendations to inform the development of the Fojo/SR MDO proposal for phase 2 in Rwanda, as well as further research areas related to gender and media.

Beneficiaries of this research include policy and decision makers as well as media managers who can contribute to positive change in media organisations and the journalism profession based on the recommendations of the report. It will also
benefit grant-making bodies and other projects that support women in journalism in Africa, in identifying gaps in existing programmes, and can contribute to addressing the gaps and challenges identified in the report.


Rwanda has made significant strides in becoming a global leader in gender equality following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Ranked at number nine (9) in the world, in the Global Gender Gap report 2020, Rwanda has made substantial progress in the percentage (83.9%) of females participating in the labour force (Schwab, Crotti, Geiger and Ratcheva, 2019). Also, ranking at the top of the league, Rwanda has maintained its position as the country with the highest percentage (61.3%) of women’s participation in single and lower houses of parliament according to the Inter-Parlimentary Union (2020) report. The high attainment in the areas outlined above makes Rwanda the strongest performer in a sub-Saharan African context.

Although Rwanda has outperformed many countries around the world, as they actively work towards gender parity and in closing its gender gap, several problems persist. Ongoing reports highlight a variety of challenges faced by Rwandan women in the workplace such as gender-based harassment in online media, gender-based corruption in public workplaces, and gaps in gender mainstreaming in media. One of the issues is that women remain under-represented at local media houses as reporters, sources as well as interviewees and gender insensitivity in the media runs rampant.

Despite the implementation of gender equality policies nationally, regionally and internationally, women working in the media continue to face a number of challenges. Gender equality has been listed as a priority in Rwanda’s Gender Equality Strategy 2019–2022 (UNDP, 2018), the African Union’s Agenda 2063 (AUC, 2015) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2021). However, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report (2019) little progress has been made as gender inequality remains considerably high.

Similarly, data collected by the Global Media Monitoring Projects (WACC, 2015) reports that little progress has been made in the implementation of gender equality policies in most media organisations in African countries. According to Fojo Media Institute and Africa Women in Media (2020), some of the problems that persist include “job stagnation, salary discrepancies for women in the media, disparities between men and women in the distribution of job roles, and sexual harassment” at the workplace.

Therefore, this study examines the following three forms of barriers hindering Rwandan women in journalism:

  1. Challenges faced when entering journalism.
  2. Challenges faced while in the industry. (These challenges relate to factors that make it harder for women journalists to do the job); and,
  3. Barriers faced in relation to progression. (These barriers relate to getting a promotion or a raise etcetera.)


THE GROUNDED THEORY approach, coined by Glaser and Strauss (1967), was the main methodological process used to code, theme and analyse the data emerging in this study. The theming process involved three-stages of coding: open, axial,
and selective. At the open coding stage, all data collected was reviewed and coded. Some of the codes that emerged included forms of harassment, poor pay, gendered salary, empowering others, and entry into the field. Once all the codes were identified, the next step, axial coding, was performed. During the axial coding stage, the codes were categorised into the following overarching themes:

  1. Barriers to entry
  2. Harassment
  3. Poor Salary
  4. Gendered roles
  5. Barriers to Progression

The selective coding was the final step, where the core categories, as outlined above, were analysed to produce the report. In addition to the grounded theory approach, a narrative analysis, an approach developed by Figgou and Pavlopoulos (2015), was undertaken to analyse the interview discussion which further illustrated the everyday lived experiences of the journalists. In the data analysis and discussion sections of this report, graphs and charts are used to illustrate some of the key data synthesised with the narratives shared. Participants will be referred to primarily as respondents (questionnaires) and interviewees respectively in this part of the report. However, in instances where the term participant has been used it refers to both interviewees and questionnaire respondents.

Section 1: Rationales for Entry into the Journalism Industry

THIS PART OF the report examines the various justifications for Rwandan women entering the journalism sector. As part of the questionnaire, respondents were asked several pertinent questions that allowed for a reflection on the motivating factors for getting into the journalism industry. This was an important question to ask, especially following on from existing research attributing motivation to “glamour” (Emenyeonu, 1991) and other rationales that trivialise the ambitions and capabilities of women entering the journalism industry, as outlined in the Barriers to women journalists report by Fojo Media Institute and
Africa Women in Media (2020).

When asked “why did you become a journalist?” several consistent terms emerged in the responses. The responses were primarily for reasons of passion and empowering others. Questionnaire respondents also expressed love and immense desirability for the media sector. In some cases, respondents talked about traumatic past events that led to them getting into journalism. Overall, the primary responses for getting into journalism relate to passion, skills, empowerment, and resilience

Section 2: Barriers to Entry in Journalism

THE PREVIOUS SECTION outlined the rationales for women joining the journalism industry, and the dataset shows the unencumbered and freeing nature of these motivations. However, it is upon entry that these feelings of passion, empowerment and resilience are put to the test as women journalists encounter major obstacles. The data in this section shows a shift that occurs between aspiring to a job role and actively entering the media industry. As a consequ
ence of these shifts, barriers to entry emerge. Therefore, this part of the report explores the specifics of these obstacles.

More than half of the respondents (59%) experienced barriers when entering the industry. While approximately 16% of the persons across all career levels, who participated in the questionnaire, stated they never experienced barriers of entry at any stage in their career (see Figure 7). There were very few respondents at entry level who listed the competitive nature of the journalist role as a barrier of entry. Meanwhile one respondent in middle career level shared her experience of her unfamiliarity with the Kinyarwanda language, which she stated is the chosen language of most media houses. While another respondent at entry level outlined the professional and technical barriers encountered at the start of the job role. However, the vast majority of responses cited misogyny, poor salaries and sexual harassment as the main barriers of entry faced.

In exploring the main issues confronted by women when entering the journalism sector, poor salaries, harassment, and gendered roles appear to be the three themes based on the responses received. The responses further show that the main perpetrators of these barriers are men at top level managerial roles at the workplaces as well as within the education setting. These findings are useful for rethinking practices in journalism within a Rwandan context

Section 3: Sexual Harassment

THIS PART OF the report explores sexual harassment as a challenge for women journalists in Rwanda. Sexual harassment at the workplace is one of the most traumatic experiences which can be traced back to slavery and the industrial revolution period. Whilst sexual harassment happens to men, women have been the main target of this form of workplace harassment. From the Barriers to Entry regional report, sexual harassment report was the most shared experience and testimonies across the participants in the Southern, East, and Western African regions.

The forms of sexual harassment experienced by women journalists in the sub-Saharan region include suggestive propositions for a sexual relationship in exchange for work, to online sexual harassment and physical assault including aggravated assault at gunpoint. Therefore, this study will explore what sexual harassment looks like for women journalists in Rwanda. One of recurring themes in this study is sexual harassment of varying forms, serving as both a barrier of entry and progression. At entry and progression levels 54% of respondents reported being negatively impacted by sexual harassment, while 38% reported that sexual harassment influenced their decision to leave the news media organisation or they contemplated leaving the organisation. Those journalists who left their jobs took several routes, such as switching to freelancing as a journalist, working in part-time journalist capacity, and/or setting up their own media organisations. Additionally, the term sexual harassment appeared 40 times in the questionnaire dataset with 45% of the respondents explicitly stating that they were sexually harassed.

Upon further examination this finding was supported in the narratives shared, as one of the respondents in senior management described sexual harassment as one of the biggest barriers women journalists encounter in Rwanda. Unfortunately, this is the reality for most of the interviewees as they all mentioned sexual harassment either as having directly experienced it, or as the experiences of their colleagues.

The evidence shows that men are the main perpetrators of sexual harassment cases and is perpetuated by tradition roles of women in Rwandan society. The forms of sexual harassment typically occurred within media organisations as well as a university environment. The data also shows that one woman journalist remain unaware of what sexual harassment looks like. However, another questionnaire participant is of the view that men also are unaware of what sexual harassment is. It begs the question regarding the implementation and access to policies. One of the interesting facts discovered in this study is that sexual harassment forces some women journalists to leave workplaces in search of better environments, while others take an individualised approach to tackling it. Overall, the findings in this section reiterates the need for solutions to issues that women journalists face as the widespread lack of organisational policies is hindering change.

Section 4: Poor Salary

THIS PART OF the report explores another barrier identified by the respondents in this study: poor salary. In a report done by Stapleton in 2004, she highlights the critical role of having good wages for skilled and experienced journalists primarily to improve quality of reporting. This statement emerged after the Noble Journalist data project, conducted in 2014, revealed that Rwandan journalists are poorly paid. The findings from the Noble Journalist study, which assessed 100 journalists, shows that “43% earn less than $293 U.S. monthly. One third of the respondents earn between $150 and $293 U.S. monthly.” Therefore, this report plays a critical role in outlining the earnings for women journalists in Rwanda and is utilised to analyse the various implications of poor salaries of the participants in this study.

An overview of the annual income shows that 41% of the respondents have an annual income that is under the internationally agreed poverty line of United States Dollar (USD) 1.90 a day (UN, 2021). The data shows journalists in Rwanda making less than USD1,000 per annum from journalism, as highlighted earlier in this report. Based on a comparison of pay scales in Rwanda, illustrated in Figure 10, media workers receive an average of USD 25,000 per annum within this context (Average Salary Survey, 2021). Therefore, from the data presented in this study, it can be deduced that most of the respondents engaged in this study receive poor salaries.

The data shows that poor pay not only exists within this industry, but women are typically paid less than men in Rwanda. Existing reports as well as those who engaged in this study stated that the media industry itself lacks financial support. Overall, the payment of poor salaries remains a critical issue that is negatively impacting most of the women journalists. The evidence suggests that poor compensation is interwoven with issues of sexual harassment; and as an additional consequence of this women journalists who encounter both of these aforementioned barriers feel undervalued. Several of the participants disclosed
the implications of poor pay on their families and other social structures emerging out of this barrier. It has impacted women in various ways but overall, it has been in negative ways. Despite these negative implications many women journalists continue in their field as evidenced by all the women who participated in this study.

However, there are several actions that needs to be taken to ensure women are paid equally and these will be discussed in the recommendations section.

Section 5: Gendered Roles

EXISTING STUDIES SHOW that although there is an increase in women journalists covering news in areas of “politics and business,” women are typically assigned to stories in areas of “arts, education and health” and consequently they face issues
of progression (North, 2014). The findings from the Barrier to entry report are similar to North’s report. Therefore, this part of the report focuses on gendered roles and the way these stereotypes affect women journalists who also fulfil the duties of mothers and wives. the data gathered in this study support the idea that societal structures in Rwanda promote gender stereotypes. Consider the following quote:

“EDITORS THINK THAT the big stories of interviewing people are for male and they cannot choose you [a woman].”

One of the respondents i
n entry level outlines the following repeated phrase, “many people say journalism is not for women.” Men also perpetuate the stereotype that “they deserve better than female journalists” according to a respondent in middle management. Both of these findings indicate the type of struggle that occurs in getting accepted by seniors and convincing editors that women journalists are capable.

Those engaged in this study reported that more opportunities are given to men than women and that women are often underestimated at the workplace.

Both respondents and interviewees said that men are typically assigned stories considered as “strong.” These types of stories are typically described as hard news to include politics, crime, economics, and human rights. Meanwhile, a respondent in senior management described how women are treated as “lazy” and are assigned what is described as soft stories such as celebrity news and human-interest stories.

When women are forced into only reporting what is categorised as soft stories and men have all opportunities to cover both soft and hard stories it appears as though men get the best of both worlds and women experience an unfair advantage on account of their gender

The findings proved that women journalists are often underestimated at the workplace. In a number of cases participants described the implications of having an all-male editorial leadership. When gender parity in the form of leadership occurs,
it is done in a tokenistic way. The findings show that some women continue to struggle with society’s expectations of the role of a woman as the care giver, therefore not much flexibility is given to women at the workplace for instance as it relates to standard paid maternity leave. Interviewees mentioned that social constructed norms, traditions, and culture in Rwanda remains an underlying barrier. Throughout the section there were connections between gendered roles and poor pay and there appears to be a lack of awareness as to the extent of the differences. There are also no unions for journalists to advocate and raise a number of these issues. These findings aid in contributing to the development of solutions at the news media organisations in Rwanda.


THE OBJECTIVE OF this study is to examine the barriers of entry, progression and retention for women journalists in Rwanda. The report emphasised that participants are motivated to join the journalism industry primarily for reasons of passion, skills, empowerment, and to demonstrate resilience. In taking a wider look at the Barriers to Women Journalists in sub-Saharan Africa report there are more barriers experienced within a sub-Saharan context for women journalists; whilst in Rwanda they are confronted by three main barriers:
1. Sexual harassment
2. Poor salaries
3. Gendered roles

For the barriers of entry, men at top level managerial roles appeared to be the main perpetrators of these barriers. There is also an example from the educational sector that relates to sexual harassment. The evidence shows that men were also the main aggressors of sexual harassment. However, the finding shows that there are a few of the participants of the study who appear to be unaware of what constitutes sexual harassment.

The results show that several women journalists’ who have are victims of sexual harassment left their places of employment and search for safer job roles at other media organisations. However, it was for the reason of poor salaries that most of the journalists had to adjust their work as journalists, especially as poor salaries have wider implications on social structures, such as families. In spite of a national gender equality strategy in place at national level, generally men are still afforded more opportunities than women, especially as women journalists are often underestimated in the newsrooms.

In terms of the barriers participants encounter when making attempts to progress within the workplace, a number of them feel a general sense of disenfranchisement. Overall, these findings aid in contributing to the development of solutions at the news media organisations in Rwanda. Drawing on best practices from the Rwanda Media Commission and the Barriers to Women Journalists in sub-Saharan Africa report to address these concerns raised in this report the recommendations in three (3) broad areas: Education, Training and Research, Policy Implementation, and Support for Women.

AWiM and Fojo hope that this study will contribute to the creation of enabling environments for Rwandan women who work in media industries and change the way Rwandan women are represented in media content.


THIS SECTION FOCUSES on some recommended best practices to curb the challenges faced by women journalists in Rwanda. The recommendations draw on several the best practices outlined in Barriers to Entry report and by the Rwanda Media Commission as well as recommendations from the participants in this study, several steps can be taken in the case of Rwanda. As a reminder, the three (3) main barriers to entry and progression, in this context, are sexual harassment, gendered roles and poor salaries.

The recommendations, geared at addressing these obstacles and are summarised in three (3) key areas: Education, Training
and Research, Policy Implementation, and Support for Women.

Education, Training and Research

BASED ON THE feedback from the questionnaire respondents, they underscored that education and training should be carried out in the following key areas:

  • To educate women about their rights, particularly as it relates to sexual harassment and all related matters. These sessions can be carried out over a series of workshops. Additionally, individual assessments and sessions are also encouraged to identify women journalists who many need further support.
  • To provide training for media managers on gender and sexual harassment. This form of workplace training can occur over a series of workshops with follow-up sessions for managers so that they are also up to date on the gender equality trends within the workplace.
  • To investigate the factors affecting women’s pay. This can be conducted in the form of a research or study so that detailed insight can be obtained in this area.
  • To increase training and mobilisation for women so that they are better equipped to practice journalism. These sessions can be developed at differing levels and made accessible all year round as refresher sessions as well as for first timers.
  • To carry out training in basic life skills particularly in learning how to face obstacles. This type of training can be carried out in the workplace with a professional facilitator or as a series of online sessions.
  • To train women journalists on Rwandan law Nº 60/2018 of 22/8/2018 on prevention and punishment of cybercrimes as well as cyberstalking.
  • All forms of education and training outlined above can be packaged under a development programme that is reviewed periodically for the provision of updated content.

Policy Implementation

IN THE BARRIERS to Women Journalists in sub-Saharan report, South Africa was presented as an example of best practice of successful gender policy implementation. South Africa is ahead in increasing the presence of women on the editorial team with 47% of editors being women. Their gender policies are implemented nationally and have had a positive impact on the media. The report outlined that South Africa placed importance on the national implementation of the gender policy as a key catalyst in the development and implementation of gender policies in media organisations. It also highlighted that identifying and accepting that there is a problem of gender inequality is critical before these problems can be addressed; as well as a need for a multi-layered approach to gender policies, at national level, buy-in at industries level, and then
at organizational level (Fojo Media Institute and Africa Women in Media 2020).

Therefore, following on from these practices outlined in Barriers to Entry report and Rwanda Media Commission as well as recommendations from the participants in this study, several steps can be taken in the case of Rwanda.

  • To ensure that gender policies are implemented at organisational level. This will entail training those in managerial capacities to monitor journalists. This move ensures compliance, give managers the ability to discipline journalists who are non-compliant, ensures discipline is consistently carried out and warns journalists about future violations to gender policy.
  • To allocate equal tasks for both female and male journalists. This move will promote the development of a culture where journalists can work together regardless of their gender. This also aids in ensuring that journalists are all-rounded in their job roles.
  • To engage local media organisations in Rwanda as part of the solution, through a series of consultancies. The discussions emerging from these consultancy sessions should be drafted and used to change and develop the news media organisational practices. This level of consultation also promotes higher chances of parity in policy implementation across news media organisations.
  • To set a system that provides technical support for media houses to develop gender-specific guidelines that ensure equal working conditions and anti-harassment policies
  • To ensure that women journalists are given equal opportunities to men for entry and progression in the industry, thereby removing all institutional restrictions and boundaries. For this to be successful, management must firstly prioritise gender equality to ensure consistency across the leadership team. Women should also be promoted to leadership positions so that they can be included in boardroom discussions especially relating to gender equality.
  • To ensure that women working in the media are provided with employment contracts. This move will aid in promoting transparency in job roles and pay between men and women.
  • To provide an environment that supports women through various stages such as marriage and motherhood, while at the workplace. This can be done by ensuring that policies accommodate standard paid leave for mothers, to consider childcare provision at the workplace setting. This move will provide flexibility for staff members to be able to create a work life balance.
  • To review salary discrepancies so that pay is standardised between both genders. To achieve this, all news media organisations should review the pay gap of their employees to identify the disparities between the salaries. Payments should then be matched accordingly. Once there is transparency in the process women too will feel valued at the workplace.
  • To review the workplace culture. This can be done by assessing the existing workplace culture. Through consultation with employees, the organisation can co-create a healthy workplace culture.
  • To review the Rwanda’s journalists and media practitioners’ code of ethics particularly for online media as it is currently the biggest media operating in Rwanda now (Rwanda Media Commission 2019).

Support for Women

  • To establish networking and mentorship as a keyway to support women journalists. Mentorship support for women journalists is critical, especially for new journalists as they transition into the media sector. Typically, these types of spaces facilitate empowerment and promote confidence, perseverance, success and hope for young women journalists. These types of networks will work together to promote gender policy implementation, education, training and research.
  • To encourage women to seek progression within the workplace setting. To identify where women journalists are getting stuck and provide them with the support to ensure they can seek progression into new roles.
  • To encourage women to join male-dominated spaces. To identify male-dominated spaces where women are blocked; and hold
    discussions on how to enter and co-exist in these spaces.
  • To develop a support system to be put in place for women reporting cases of harassment (both physical and online).
  • To provide social, technical, and financial resources that prioritises the safety of women alongside mental health and wellbeing support for women journalists.
  • To encourage women to write stories about women, and to utilize the networking opportunities to create trusted relationship
    with other women who can contribute to news sources.


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C.E.O & Co-founder, AWiM

Dr Yemisi Akinbobola is an award-winning journalist, academic, consultant and co-founder of African Women in Media (AWiM). AWiM’s vision is that one-day African women will have equal access to representation in media. Joint winner of the CNN African Journalist Award 2016 (Sports Reporting), Yemisi ran her news website IQ4News between 2010-14.
Yemisi holds a PhD in Media and Cultural Studies from Birmingham City University, where she is a Senior Lecturer. She has published scholarly research on women’s rights, African feminism, and journalism and digital public spheres. She was Editorial Consultant for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 commemorative book titled “She Stands for Peace: 20 Years, 20 Journeys”, and currently hosts the book’s podcast.
She speaks regularly on issues relating to gender and media. In 2021 she was recognized as one of 100 Most Influential African Women.