Kenyan women have set out to tackle their representation in the media and at event panels.
They have taken the fight against male dominance to the cyberspace with an initiative dubbed Say No To Manels.
A “manel” is a term used to describe a panel of all-males— highlighting the underrepresentation of women as experts.
To solve the problem of women’s noticeable absence on panels, Ory Okolloh, Sophie Gitonga and Nanjira Sambuli established a database of women experts across Kenya.
“In Kenya, the ‘gender rule’ has gained much lip service. That, as we see time and again, does not translate into reforms or the requisite action to make women’s representation a reality,” Sambuli says.
In September, they opened an online form for woman to register themselves or their colleagues as authorities on any given topic in order to make their expertise and availability known to event organisers and the media.
Since last May, technology activist Nanjira Sambuli has been urging people to reject all-male panels.
She started the hashtag #SayNoToManels and #SayNoToManelsKE, which call out media organisations and events that are male-dominated.
The hashtags also encourage people to include women’s voices.
“When organisers are asked why this [lack of women] is so, many often trivialise it, or give an excuse about there being no women available, or say they don’t know of women in the particular area of expertise to invite,” Sambuli says.
The public database is meant to counteract this issue.
Since its launch, almost 400 experts have signed up from disciplines ranging from technology to health.
While the database founders have not formally reached out to media or event organisers, they often use their Twitter account (@SayNoToManelsKE) to call out groups for hosting all-male panels and direct them to the database.
They say people have been finding it organically for the most part, having fielded several inquiries from those looking for women experts.
One of the women on the database is Crystal Simeoni, a tax justice expert who regularly speaks at and attends high-level events.
She says she often hears condescending comments about her presence in certain spaces.
“At the African Union or United Nations, the reaction from men is ‘What is a pretty person like you doing here?’ and I say ‘The same thing that you are, what do you think?’” Simeoni says.
According to the Media Council of Kenya, men are 10 times more likely than women to be used as a source of news in Kenyan media.