Edith Mkwaila – Malawi

Edith Mkwaila – Malawi

Date: June 30, 2015
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Edith’s contemplative and gracious demeanour is refreshingly deceiving; somewhat shrouding her feisty and frank persona. However, it does not take long to notice the tenacity she exudes and her strength of character. It was due to this determination that Edith was promoted to News and Current affairs Editor at Joy Radio in late 2011. And it is with her vigour that she continues to challenge the gendered institutional gradient that persists amongst management.

Her job is to manage a team of presenters and reporters, giving criticism and applause for the previous day’s efforts, while offering advice and guidance for the programmes ahead. Edith takes the lead and decides on the final programmes and bulletins that go to air. When her journalists are struggling to keep their heads above water, owing to her experience, she is adaptable and able to jump in and conduct reports, edit stories and even present the news.

Edith started at Joy Radio as an intern after graduating from the Malawi Institute of Journalism with a diploma in Journalism. Having made her way to management, she can see how things have improved and how the institution has changed over the years. Previously, only men covered specific stories and there were few female reporters.

Although gender equity had marginally improved, it was not as swift and sincere as she had hoped. Even when Edith became editor and it was her prerogative to assign journalists to certain stories, management would go over her head and reassign reporters to other beats.

Perturbed yet purposeful, she stood her ground and spoke her mind. “This is my department, and you gave me this position, promoted me to editor, so leave me to do my job. If I need your help, I’ll ask”, Edith told management.

This was a reoccurring issue, and management repeatedly disregarded her grievances, but she continued to challenge her superiors and finally got through to them. “They implied I wasn’t capable and I felt undermined. I wanted to make my own decisions!”

Although it has been a struggle for Edith, she admits things are finally getting better, but expresses her frustration, because similar problems have not stopped completely.

“Things are more equal; women cover political rallies now and we are more heard than before, but there are still issues that need ironing out”. Edith commends the change that has taken place but laments that there is a lot of room for improvement. “Though they do try, I wish management would take this more seriously”.

Although colleagues and friends have always perceived Edith as “pushy”, she believes that Gender Links gave her the confidence to take a stand. She has never actually attended a GL workshop, but would often receive and read GL resources from Kubi Rama after having met her at a gender conference in 2011. “We had a session with Kubi on gender which touched on polygamy. It was a real eye opener. Since then Kubi has always emails me journals and information”.

With her willingness to learn and challenge herself and others, Edith is not only a changed life, but a champion changing lives. “I make sure that in whatever I do there is fairness, ensuring there is equal opportunity for both female and male newsreaders. When I lead my team I make certain our stories are gender sensitive and that the content has an impact on women”.

Edith’s persistence and resolute approach goes beyond the newsroom. She is also the chairperson of the Joy Radio Communications Union, where she pushes for accountability as well as encouraging a respectful and equal working environment. “A lot my male colleagues saw me as difficult, but with time they have accepted me. With the union election I was surprised to find out I won the majority vote”. She presses on, promoting gender equality among management, and is pleased that although the institution is not perfect, there is at least the space for debating and negotiation.

“I am a no nonsense woman like my mother. She is the head teacher at a primary school in a township in Blantyre. I admire how she has handled herself over the years and managed to keep herself together”. With the lessons learnt from her mother, difficulties she overcome at Joy Radio and with her on going engagement with GL, she endeavours to apply all the lessons to everyday life and to every situation. “These discussions kept me thinking; I realised that no matter what I am doing no one must take advantage of me, just because I am a woman”.

Even outside of the professional sphere, Edith applies these viewpoints to her personal life. “I remember a Gender Links discussion that taught me about the ‘male companion’ not as superiors, but seeing men as equals. When you have this mind-set, you will do it without fear and that inferiority complex.” Edith endures despite the hurdles, pressing on to ensure that women in both her professional and personal life have an equal footing. “I do it bit by bit. Gradually I can see the change, and I’m proud but I know we can do better.”



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