The who’s who of the world’s biggest journalists association, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), will, this week, converge in Kigali, to explore ways of empowering African women journalists.
The high-level meeting on gender and media comes barely two years after the Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ) – which is in the advanced stages of transiting into a fully-fledged union – joined the Brussels-based journalists’ body.
The conference will not only attract the movers and shakers in the world of media, including the IFJ President and executives, the leaders of the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), as well as the representatives of journalist unions and associations across the continent, but also other top international decision-makers and personalities.
With more than 600,000 members worldwide and a strong presence in 123 countries, the IFJ is not only the most representative journalists body worldwide, but the best structured and, probably, most credible international media watchdog. Unlike the majority of the other media advocate groups, the IFJ is a membership-based association, with well known affiliates and individual members whose professional and labour-related rights lie at the heart of the 85-year old federation. This is an association which has placed media freedom monitors in all the countries it operates in, whose work it is to always send alerts about any media violation, which then informs the federation’s daily and periodical reports and actions. The IFJ runs a fund that supports victims of media freedom violations, including bereaved families in case of death, and regularly passes on safety and professional tips to its members.
That the IFJ top brass decided to bring a conference of such a profile to a country highly vilified by certain organisations purporting to represent journalists’ interests is proof that the majority of the world’s journalists, and indeed, sober media watchdogs, don’t take most lies about Rwanda seriously. For there is no way the IFJ leadership will want to associate with a government it believes violates journalists’ rights, let alone one that certain groups have ranked behind Somalia’s al-Shabaab terrorists. If for nothing else, the IFJ’s choice of Rwanda as the most ideal venue for its maiden conference on gender equality in the media industry – even when Rwanda had not applied for the opportunity – shows that the world’s media see something incredibly great happening in this country.
Indeed, there’re so many positive and mostly unique things about this country. Or else there can never be an explanation as to why, a typical African country where a girl child was previously regarded by many families as simply a bonus, now rules the world in terms of gender equality and women empowerment! Several reports from independent researchers have confirmed that gender equality in Rwanda is not just a matter of laws, but rather a phenomenon that is visibly entrenched in the country’s urban and rural settings alike. By now, I do not need to state that Rwanda’s parliament is predominantly women, constituting 54 percent of the August House; and that many women do not only occupy high-profile positions but also make up at least 30 percent of all leadership positions in the public sector. And the trend is picking up in the private sector, where women are emerging as CEOs and entrepreneurs.
The IFJ does not only condemn media violations or laws that gag the media. It also encourages governments’ good practices aimed at bettering the media. For instance, its Eastern Africa affiliate, the Eastern Africa Journalists Association (EAJA), was among the first foreign groups to salute Kigali’s decision to replace statutory media regulation with media self-regulation. Indeed, Rwandan media practitioners consider the IFJ as a reliable partner in our efforts to create a better media profession, as opposed to some supposed media watchdogs out there. The IFJ has helped train several Rwandan journalists both in professional and labour-related issues, and respects and values the views of its local affiliate, the ARJ. They do not blackmail governments, they endeavour to work with them in building stronger media. That’s a far cry from the disgraceful conduct of the RSF and CPJ.
Of course the Kigali conference will benefit Rwanda as much as it will the foreign delegates as there’s plenty to learn from each other. Yes, globally Rwanda is a leader in gender issues; in the media, however, we will look to add to the already impressive steps taken towards making the sector more vibrant, responsible and freer.
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The writer is the 1st Vice President of the Rwanda Journalists Association