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A conversation with the women behind Interruptrr Africa

Marjan Tillmans
Jul 24 · 5 min read

Around the world, women are still grossly underrepresented in the media. According to Global Media Monitoring Project’s latest report, women made up a mere 19% of experts featured in news stories and only 37% of stories were reported by women. Across all media, women were the central focus of just 10% of news stories.

As a response to the repeated oversight of female expertise, together with a number of female journalists and women involved in media development, we created Interruptrr Africa. It’s a monthly newsletter that highlights female expertise on Africa and African issues. This initiative is part of the European Journalism Centre’s global media development programme No News is Bad News, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

To find out more about the project and the experience of amplifying female voices in media, we talked with Elmira Bayrasli, co-founder Foreign Policy Interrupted (FPI), Vicensia Fuko, Interruptrr Africa team member from Tanzania and Kiya Ali, Interruptrr Africa team member from Ethiopia.

Can you tell us about the (hi)story of this project? How did it come about?

Elmira: Interruptrr Africa is a spinoff of Foreign Policy Interrupted that was launched in 2014, in response to the repeated oversight of female expertise on the op-ed page, on television and radio, and on panels. In addition to providing workshops and mentoring, it launched a weekly newsletter that highlights female expertise.

The European Journalism Centre approached me about partnering on it. Together we piloted an initiative in Kenya — Kenya Interrupted. Interruptrr Africa is an outgrowth of that.

Vicensia: The Interruptrr Africa story, in my opinion, is a journey. It’s a journey of adventure, encouragement and exploration of new horizons that shapes the community and provides a space for women journalists in Africa.

What makes it special in your opinion, and why a project like this is needed?

Kiya Ali, Interruptrr Africa team member from Ethiopia.

Kiya: In my opinion, there are three reasons that make the project special. The first one is it helps to elevate women’s voices on issues that are mainly reported on by men.

This will help the world to perceive issues in Africa from the other perspective. The other one is it will challenge gender ratio and promote equality. In addition, it serves as a networking hub for its members since the contributors are from various corners of the world.

Elmira: There is no lack of initiatives and organisations raising awareness about and working towards gender equality. Interruptrr Africa stands out in that it is going one step further. For FPI, gender equality is important in its impact, not its representation. Women must and need to be included in conversations in order to increase perspectives, strategies, and solutions. This is what makes Interruptrr Africa and the Interruptrr series unique. It looks at women as experts, with value to add, rather than victims who need to be protected and championed.

Are there some challenges you face in your work?

Elmira: Finding media outlets that value women’s voices! It is a struggle to find female bylines on breaking news. Similarly, seeing a female expert share her analysis on a particular event is rare.

Elmira Bayrasli, co-founder Foreign Policy Interrupted.

This is not because there is a lack of female expertise. Quite the contrary. When you look at enrolment rates at universities and graduate programmes, across a variety of subjects, women outnumber men. Yet, women are not being called on to discuss vital topics such as national security, defence, and governance. We’re trying to change that, by identifying those voices that are out there and encouraging other women to share their expertise and encouraging the media to recognise female talent.

So far, there have been 6 editions of the Interruptrr Africa newsletter. What are your plans for the future of this project?

Kiya: We’ve been working mainly in East Africa and hope to expand it out to other parts of Africa, to have a wider representation of the continent.

Vicensia Fuko, Interruptrr Africa team member from Tanzania.

Vicensia: It would be interesting to monitor and document the progress and the impact that Interruptrr Africa is making to women journalists in Africa and see how we can bridge gaps that would be identified.

What would you advise others who want to launch a project that amplifies female voices?

Elmira: I do encourage others interested in fighting the patriarchy and working towards gender equality to think of women as strong and capable — as heroines, not victims. We have to stop leading from behind and leading with a sense of strength.

Kiya: To get the best result out of it you should make sure that the major goal of the project is aligned with your own value. It has to be done with passion since it requires dedication and consistency. Also, you have to be determined to challenge the status quo and rewrite the male-dominated narration.

What are some surprising learnings you’ve had since the project started?

Elmira: I was surprised about the stunning persistence of the patriarchy. No matter how much women progress, gaining rights and accomplishments, men continue to dominate in every sphere. And that status quo is perpetuated by a male-dominated media. Editors and senior leadership at media outlets continue to be male. This needs to change. With growing extremism, climate change, inequality, and unravelling world order, it is vital to call on a variety of perspectives to solve these pressing challenges.

Vicensia: Seeing the interest of men to follow up on our work and read what women journalists in Africa are writing beyond covering fashion and entertainment, is heartwarming.

Kiya: Media should be the major tool to fight against gender imbalance. Yet, gender ratios in many media outlets are still unequal and they are gender insensitive. The good thing is I have also learned that there are many qualified women across Africa.

How can people get involved?

  • Sign up for our newsletter: Interruptrr.news/Africa (You can access the previous editions of the newsletter here.)
  • Follow us on Twitter: @InterruptrrA
  • Send us links to articles, op-eds, analysis, research by women.
  • Write your local paper, radio station, TV channel to let them know you’d like to see more women.
  • To expand to other African countries, we need women journalists from other parts of Africa to be part of the team, so we can exhaustively cover the whole continent. Contact tillmans@ejc.net for more information.

European Journalism Centre

Interviews, insights and opportunities from the European Journalism Centre.

Marjan Tillmans

Written by

Working at European Journalism Centre

European Journalism Centre

Interviews, insights and opportunities from the European Journalism Centre.

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