Promoting Occupational Health Safety for Female Journalists

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In partnership with Ethnic Heritage Centre, FRLP Fellow and female journalist with THISDAY Newspaper, Yinka Freda Olatunbosun, recently organised a seminar on occupational health and safety seminar, especially targeted at female journalists. Sunday Ehigiator reports

There can never be too many seminars highlighting the importance of female journalists to stay safe, all the more so as they are often subjected to unending harassment and other grave dangers in their work places.

The opinion of Abeer Saady, former vice president of the Egyptian Press Syndicate, and safety trainer, whose experience as a correspondent covering conflict zones, as well as domestic hazards, speaks volume. In one of her handbooks entitled ‘The Third Gender’, she wrote that “women journalists wage a war on two fronts: the war to survive, and the war against the system, as they are under pressure to prove themselves, which may subject them to greater danger”.

Saady’s advice to women starting off in journalism is “never endanger yourself physically or mentally, to prove anything to anyone,” adding that, she realised that after five personal injuries, losing colleagues, and suffering trauma.

It was with the view of sensitising female journalists on ways to mitigate against some professional hazards and risk associated with the journalism profession, that Female Reporters Leadership Programme (FRLP) Fellow, an initiative of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism and Free Press Unlimited and female journalist with THISDAY Newspaper, Olatunbosun Yinka Freda, in partnership with Ethnic Heritage Centre, recently organised a seminar on occupational health and safety seminar, especially targeted at female journalists.

Safety in the Newsroom

In her introductory remarks, Olatunbosun said: “In the words of William Wordsworth, ‘In ourselves our safety must be sought, by our own right hand it must be wrought’. With that, I welcome you to a much-trumpeted seminar on occupational health and safety for female journalists in our organisation.

“I chose to limit this newsroom project to the women journalists not because our subject excludes the male. I prioritise the women in my organisation because women by tradition are vested with the role of keeping children and the home safe.

“In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of nursing mothers at THISDAY. Many women have to juggle their roles as mothers, wives and substitute mothers with their editorial responsibilities. Sadly, the issue of our collective health and safety had not been a subject for formal conversation like this because a deluge of other issues have eroded our zest for punctuality at the newsroom, team spirit and strategic newsroom projects.

“Our occupational health and safety is a serious concern judging by the rising reported cases of mental health disorders, lifestyle related illnesses and premature deaths. As cliché as it may sound, we are in a profession that is rated as one of the most dangerous in the world.

“In addition, the risks of getting to work safe has become higher with the continuous blockage of all major routes leading to Apapa by articulated truck drivers, turning a once-beautiful town into a nightmare and what the philosopher Thomas Hobbes would call ‘a state of war’ in which life is ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’. In this state of war, nothing is wrong, nothing is unjust.

“As you may know, this seminar is a newsroom project I designed in partial fulfillment of the requirements for all fellows of the Female Reporters Leadership Programme, an initiative of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism and Free Press Unlimited. If anyone had woken me up earlier this year to tell me that in November, I would be organising a seminar, I would have responded ‘dream on’.
“This fellowship has opened my eyes to the possibilities out of an almost impossible situation. The fellowship has served as an indispensable support system with its assemblage of result-driven mentors who refined us using kind words, sound knowledge of the media industry and professional nudge which manifested in different forms such as surprise phone calls and light-hearted conversations during residency.

Challenges

On the challenges faced she said: “The whole story of my becoming a fellow working on a newsroom project in THISDAY will be incomplete without the mention of some of the challenges I encountered in and out of the newsroom.

“I met with lazy pessimism, mockery and short-sighted comments which, ironically, did not deplete my level of confidence but activated an under-utilised chunk of my thinking faculty.

“Initially, this newsroom project was conceived as one that should be domiciled in the THISDAY physical building. But with wide consultations, I discovered that impact does not necessarily require a physical environment. The previous plan to hold this seminar at THISDAY office in Apapa would have launched us all into some irksome journey with the risk of it being counter-productive. So I sought partnership with the Ethnic Heritage Centre to provide a mini-retreat ambiance for our well-being.”

Credits

“I cannot possibly take credit for the planning and execution of this seminar. I want to thank the Chairman, THISDAY Newspapers for building a reputable brand that has opened doors of opportunities for us all. I want to express my gratitude to the Managing Director, Mr. Eniola Bello for his quick approval of this project.

“I am immensely grateful to our editor, Mr. Bolaji Adebiyi, for his professionalism governed by sound judgment; Ms Chiemelie Ezeobi, our Group Features Editor, for her patience as I had missed deadlines occasionally while working on my project story and seminar. I am particularly thankful to my mentor for life and friend, Mr Nseobong Okon-Ekong who inspite of his busy political calendar as Group Politics Editor, demanded excellence in every step of curating this newsroom project.

“I appreciate the goodwill messages from Mr. Kunle Adewale, Ms. Funke Olaode, Mr. Charles Ajunwa, Ms Rebecca Ejifoma, Ms Evelyn Osagie and Ms Margaret Mwantok. I am indebted to Ms. Funke Aboyade for grooming me to be a journalist and believing in me.

“To my resource persons, I want to thank you for your selfless service and commitment to this programme. I am indebted to the management of Ethnic Heritage Centre who made the space available for free for ease of commuting on such short notice. I thank all my supportive mentors as well as my fellow fellows. I hope you do enjoy the seminar, thank you”.

Threats against Female Journalists

In her presentation, a Health and Safety Environment Professional, Olasunmbo Olajubu, highlighted the various threats against female journalists, positing that they face twice the threats as faced by their male counterparts.

Olajubu cited the assault and murder of Bulgarian journalist Viktoria Marinova and the recent deaths of female journalists all over the world as proof of the dangers female journalists have to face every day, stating that sexual harassment remains another key issue.

However, she pointed out precautions every female journalist should adhere to which ranges from cultivating actions and habits that would ensure their safety while working, stressing that, “decent dressing is as an important step in escaping such dangers”.

Need to do Better

In her opinion, President, Nigerian Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), Alhaja Sekinah Lawal said, the stress of working as a female journalist and the rush to meet deadlines has led to recent loss of lives, especially pregnant women, during delivery.

She added that the pressure to meet-up and be at par with the menfolk in the journalism career eventually leads to poor health, and called for better treatment of the female journalists and conducive environment, without discrimination for them to thrive.

One of the highlights of the event was when Evelyn Osagie, a respected journalist, and celebrated performance poet, stage named Evelyn D’Poet, echoed the message of the seminar with an impactful performance; urging women to rise above the abuse they suffer.