Milly Nantogo, was appointed by The King (Kabaka) of Uganda’s largest cultural institution of Buganda as the chairperson of Ntinda Parish based on the Kingdom’s hierarchy. That appointment came as a surprise.
Nantongo, had served a five-year term as a deputy chairperson and was in preparation to take another oath for the second term, only to be told she had been selected to replace her boss. She held back.
“I had filled forms to be sworn in as the vice chairperson, only for me to be told that I had been appointed as the head. No due process was followed so I asked them to postpone the ceremony till we got clarification” she explains.
At the back of her mind, Nantongo felt that her now predecessor had done better, and he deserved a dignified exit, yet the inauguration team kept urging her to just accept the position.
As the media swarmed in, she urged them not to record anything or run the bulletin because it would give the wrong image to the Kingdom.
That very evening, a bulletin ran on the local TV station that she had undermined the King by rejecting his order. This action could cost her an election and relations with the Kingdom.
“I was asked not to speak to the media, and I even begged that they don’t cover the ceremony till everything is sorted,” she explains.
Women leaders in Uganda have had a fair share of media-led reputation damage. Since Uganda’s 2005 referendum, which ushered in the multiparty system of government, women political leaders have struggled to secure leadership roles and participate in elections. Women political leaders are often underrepresented within political parties, deeply impacting their participation in decision-making processes.
In 2018, the media was awash with headlines on how a Woman Member of Parliament Sylvia Rwabogo then 42 had arrested an “innocent” 25-year-old for sexually harassing her.
Many criticized her actions taking sides with her stalker with one media house reporting that “The legislator has been under fire for causing the jailing of an innocent boy whose crime was love”
During the 2021 elections, Nabila Naggayi the then Woman MP of Kampala and candidate for the Mayoral position of the same made headlines for a breaking marriage and property fights with her husband. Nothing about her achievements and what she could offer as the Mayor of Kampala was ever published.
“We have seen many women politicians berated in the media, there is nothing good to write about them yet they have done work in their communities,” Tricia Gloria Nabaye the engagement and Advocacy coordinator at Pollicy, a feminist digital rights campaigner, said during a women leaders’ media training in Kampala.
Pollicy is using a writing workshop model to sensitize African women leaders to learn how to control the narrative that is written about them and use social media to their advantage as a platform to tell their side of the story.
Called the Vote Women Write Shop series, the program is a Political Leadership and Digital Resilience Incubator that provides a leadership springboard for women aspiring to engage in civic leadership.
“This series aims not only to showcase the vital role of women in media but also to emphasize the broader significance of responsible reporting on women in politics.” She adds that by doing so, they aspire to address internet governance issues in Uganda and other parts of Africa,” Nabaye explains.
Acknowledging the gender gap in African national and local authorities and parliaments, Pollicy through the program focuses on capability development, fundraising, and campaign management, utilizing innovation, technology, and community support.
During the Write-shop, women leaders expressed their fear of media and recounted many of the times they have been berated by journalists and netizens on online platforms.
The media space plays a critical role in informing and influencing society. By shaping the narratives of different aspects of life, such as education, culture, development, economy, leadership, and many more, respective actors in the media industry can either break or make one’s reputation.
However, a study by Uganda Media Women’s Association (UMWA) observed a 4% increase of women as news sources, and subjects in the news media of Uganda as of 2022. Hence, a 28% representation in print media from 24% as of 2020 Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) findings compared to 69% for males. On television, women formed 25%, males 75%.
“Women’s voices in the media are very low in the region compared to men … they shy away from the media due to fear and continuous misrepresentation by the media,” says Rachel Magege, the Data Governance lead at Pollicy, a feminist organization that trained the women leaders.
During the training, all women leaders testified on how they had been misrepresented by the media.
“I was once accused of being part of the group of opposition politicians that went to the state house that went to meet the president. I wrote to the media house, and they issued an apology, but the damage was already done,” Olive Namazzi recounts her experience with the media adding that she has had several issues with different media houses.
In 2022, only 34 percent of representatives in Uganda’s National Assembly were women, a testament to the hostile and violent environment that discourages women from participating in politics, according to Magege.
Even with the low numbers, women are often bullied and badgered by the media which discourages more participation, she adds.
“We need to find ways in which women leaders can harness the power of storytelling and to see how we can shine a light on the work they do in this country specifically the women at the local government level.” Magege explains
She also emphasized the use of online platforms that women often shy away from using due to bullying and harassment.
Nantogo was one of the women in this engagement, while she was told that her story could not be run again due to editorial factors, she was taught how to use other media like press conferences and her online platforms to set the record straight.
“Women leaders, need to learn how to frame their stories, to depict the positive work they do in their communities.” Magege explains hoping that Nantongo will start to control her narrative