The rise of women journalists in the Kenyan media scene


Women are increasingly becoming present in the media worldwide, a situation replicated in Kenya where women journalists are occupying strategic posts in the country’s four daily newspapers, magazines and alternative media.

A number of Kenyan female journalists have set up successful media organisations in the past decade.

Rose Kimotho’s Kameme 101 FM radio station, founded 10 years ago, has grown into a multimedia empire incorporating the People Daily newspaper and K24 TV station, Kenya’s first 24-hour news channel station.
After graduating in1980 from the School of Journalism at the University of Nairobi, Kimotho started her career in journalism at The Weekly Review and The Nairobi Times. Through the Regional Reach Company that she founded in 1994, she installed television sets in rural trading centres in Kenya, offering entertainment and means of advertising.

Like Kimotho, many Kenyan women journalists have come a long way.

In the shrunken democratic period of the 1980s, it was not a good time to be a journalist in Kenya. After the 1982 coup, the government felt threatened and many journalists were harassed, tortured or jailed for sedition.

For the majority of female journalists, the only option during the media-oppressive decade was to work for women’s magazines or the “Women’s section” in mainstream newspapers.

But the absence of Kenyan women from active journalism was not just related to the political climate or economic conditions, but also to the fact that female journalists were simply not taken seriously and few had opportunities to climb the ladder in journalism.

Despite the hurdles, female journalists such as Sarah Elderkin carried on, carefully and meticulously weaving out their professional development amidst the harsh political environment.

Elderkin, the former editor of the defunct The Weekly Review, now works as a freelance journalist, writing for The Star, one of the boldest daily newspapers in Kenya. She is among Kenya’s most experienced female journalists and serves as communications adviser to the country’s Prime Minister Raila Amollo Odinga. 

For a long time, it was assumed that women journalists could only be trusted to write about beauty, relationships and home. So after churning out endless articles about how to lose weight, how to decorate living rooms, or how to mend broken relationships, many women journalists jumped ship. 

Zain Verjee, a Canadian national who was born and raised in Kenya, started off as a presenter at Kenya Television Network (KTN) with her hard-hitting interview programme, The Third Opinion. She rose to international prominence when she was chosen to present CNN International’s flagship news programme Your World Today.

Kenya’s media scene has changed and now boasts outstanding women journalists such as Farida Karoney (Citizen Media Group), Jane Godia (African Women and Child Features Service), Catherine Gicheru (The Star), Wangari Migwi (Coro FM), Julie Gichuru, Silvia Chebet (Citizen), Lucy Oriang and Pamela Makotsi.  Young, ambitious and bearing good academic credentials, they form the backbone of Kenyan journalism. 

“Female journalists have travelled a long journey to reach where they are now. The challenges are many in this male dominated arena, but the fruits are rewarding,” said Farida Karoney. The veteran Farida Karoney is now the Group Editorial Director at Citizen media group. Karoney has previously worked for Al Jazeera as well as nearly all major Kenyan TV channels and won several awards.

Despite many hardships and challenges including male chauvinism, courageous and spirited Kenyan women journalists have stood up for their beliefs and risked their lives and safety not only to empower themselves, but their communities as well.

Another remarkable characteristic of these journalists is that they are hardly in their thirties, but have covered major world events such as the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

They have played an important role in changing the Kenyan media landscape and have been garlanded as catalysts and leaders who inspire and give a voice to girls and women around the world. 

Fatuma Noor, an investigative journalist with daily newspaper The Star won the top prize at CNN’s MultiChoice African Journalist 2011 Awards. Her three-part series on Al-Shabaab, an Islamic insurgent group in Somalia, prompted the Kenyan government to wage the still ongoing international war against the group.

In 2009, Noor, who is a member of the Forum for Investigative African Reporters (FAIR) board member won the runner up prize at the FAIR African Investigative Journalism Awards for her exceptional report on how underage girls from refugee camps were forced to work in a Nairobi brothel run by Somali warlords. She also won a David Astor Journalism Award in 2010.

The Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK) has been training and equipping women journalists with professional skills to effectively promote their status. By demystifying taboos and stereotypes, AMWIK aims to make them as competitive as their male colleagues. It also runs a scholarship fund aimed at helping Kenyan women journalists pursue further education.

Since the fund was introduced five years ago, over 20 of 18 women journalists been able to receive higher education at local universities at both undergraduate and post-graduate levels. This has given them a chance to effectively compete for decision-making positions. “AMWIK aims to open up the media to ensure greater women participation and we have implemented projects to build women journalists’ capacity of in Kenya”, says Executive Director Jane W. Thuo. 

According to Mounia Belafia, vice president of the Gender Council of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), women journalists should share their experience and best practices to drive the change which will help do away with gender inequalities in the newsrooms.

Speaking at the All African Conference on Gender and Equality in Media in Kigali, Rwanda in August 2011, Belafia urged African journalists to unite, men and women, to effect durable change and achieve greater fairness in the profession.

She identified the main challenges facing African women journalists as sexual harassment, lack of transparency in the newsroom and the pay -gap between men and women journalists.

Because of the important role the media and accurate information play in women’s lives, there is still a need for more training of women media professionals and mainstreaming women’s issues in the Kenyan media.