Sexual harassment in newsrooms

What do you do when senior colleagues make conditions at work unbearable? Sandra Maricho narrates a story of a her year-long nightmare in a newsroom.

Sexual harassment - from Today's African Woman

Sexual harassment – from Today’s African Woman

When I finished my first two years at Midlands State University, I was supposed to look for attachment as is the norm. I was very excited, as were my classmates. We had our own expectations of finally joining the much envied workforce. I was also pleased by the prospect of earning my own money, which would lessen the financial burden, on our parents. I remember that time I had hopes of returning to fourth year semesters driving my own car.

Distinctions mean nothing

One of my friends, Todd, bragged that he would find a job anywhere he wanted because he had the distinctions in the class. We didn’t know this was not that important to the employers out there.  It was not a matter of what you know but who you know.

Lofty ambitions

In order to increase my chances, I printed as many CVs as I could. My  first target was non-governmental  organisations. Everyone wanted an NGO job because the money was good. I spent almost a month waiting for a response, but nothing came. In the end I settled for work in a newsroom where it was easier to get a place. I presumed the job would be exciting but only to realise that my dreams of driving back to college in my own car were an intangible mist.

Reality bites

On my first day I got word that they did not even  pay transport allowances to students and one had to wait for the company vehicle  to be transported to and from work . No one told me what I was supposed to do or who I needed to contact in order  to get good newsworthy stories. It was so uncomfortable to stay in the newsroom with very little things to do so I had to followed the experienced journalists on their assignments at the courts. As time went on, I was used to look for stories on my own and the experience was amazing. I was very passionate at work and I enjoyed going into the field to cover stories especially at stadia when PSL teams were playing.

Shop-floor antics

The downside is that I had to rely on my guardians for every little thing I needed. As a young lady working in the newsroom I had to look presentable. The men in the newsroom were not very accommodative and would always make embarrassing comments that made me uncomfortable at the workplace.  Perhaps they thought it was funny and because they had done it for years, they believed it was normal. Many of my fellows endured the ill-treatment – most likely out of fear of failing their work-related learning course.

Groped on the job

I remember a situation when one of my colleagues from MSU who was also on attachment at the same newsroom, being fondled by a senior journalist in the newsroom on the guise of feeling the quality of her blouse that several others had described as so beautiful. During the course of our work-related learning, we also became used to insults each morning such as “today you are looking so sexy… your slender body is exactly the size of my machine…. there goes my dude.” And these statements all came from senior reporters and editors in the newsroom.

If a female intern wore a short dress, during diary meetings it became the norm that one of the editors would insist that you bend down to switch on the desktop CPU on the floor.

Speaking out

Defiance - fighting sexual harassment

Defiance – fighting sexual harassment

Fed up by these antics, I stood my ground against our tormentors but retribution is what I got. My worst experience was when I was denied access to attend workshops which were believed to be well paying at a time when I was just struggling to get a single dollar from the company itself. It happened to be on a Friday when the workshop facilitators requested a list of attending members from our newsroom. One of the female seniors felt sorry for us and put our names on the list. Excited, I went home planning to buy my facial cream after attending the workshop the following day.

Victimised

That evening, as I was preparing my outfit for the morning’s workshop, my phone rang. The caller ID showed it was our office number. I answered my phone. It was one of my seniors. The phone call was to remind me of my place as an intern. I was told not to even think about attending the workshop. I was very disappointed but later I accepted and simply knew where all that was coming from – my resistance to sexual harassment.

I was later to get denied coverage of big stories or scoops and made to only focus on uninspiring articles.

Sexual harassment exists

My interactions with former classmates lately indicate that the scourge of sexual harassment is still rife in newsrooms even this day. There is therefore need for authorities and media bodies such MISA, Zimbabwe Union of Journalists among others to take action.

***

Sandra Maricho is a Midlands State University graduate. She owns two flea market stalls in Gweru where she lives. She is also a freelance journalist and fan for Manchester City.

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