Seasoned scholar Jjuuko on achievements, gender parity in media and bringing more women on board


Professor Margaret Jjuuko

Margaret Jjuuko, a seasoned lecturer who has contributed greatly to the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Rwanda is now a professor of journalism, media and communication. The 58-year-old scholar had her inaugural lecture at the end of July, 2023.
Jjuuko is also the programme coordinator for the newly introduced Master’s in Journalism and Communication at the University of Rwanda where she has worked for over 16 years.
In an exclusive interview, Jjuuko talks about her new position, her role in promoting gender equality in Rwanda’s media sector, and more.

How would you describe yourself ?

My self-description is simple : I’m a constant knowledge seeker and humble learner. I have discovered, over the years that humility while seeking knowledge, even from those you perceive as unworthy of your attention or time, is a good starting point. Each step I have taken in my life and career growth, has, in many instances, been informed by those I less expected.

Many people know you as an educator, with a great deal of experience. Do you agree ?

Well, yes ! That is a brand I have earned and developed over the years since my earlier educational role in the Ugandan broadcast media. As an academic, I have gone through great institutions including Makerere University in Uganda where I served as a Tutorial Assistant and Assistant Lecturer, respectively, Rhodes University as a Graduate Assistant, the National University of Rwanda as Lecturer and, the University of Rwanda, where I went through the ranks of Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor and of late, Professor of journalism, media and communication.
So, as you can see, the seed was planted at Makerere and nurtured overtime under those various institutions, but blossomed greatly at the University of Rwanda. In general, I have dedicated several years of service and contributed to the East African media and scholarly community.

With 16 years at the University of Rwanda, there is so much that you have done. What are you most proud of ?

I get satisfaction in knowing that very many graduates of journalism and communication in Rwanda and Uganda, who passed through our hands at UR-SJC and Mass Communication department at Makerere University, have become great members of society and many of them are in prominent positions around the world.

On a personal note, and this is what I always tell my acquaintances, some of my former students, particularly in the areas of TV production and reporting, have “surpassed the teacher”. This is something that makes me very, very proud. Another source of my pride, which is funny but very interesting, is when I run into our SJC alumni, they will say, “I’m made in Jjuuko”. Such statements are priceless.

Rwanda’s media sector is still grappling with challenges of gender parity. Is there anything you and the school are doing about it ?

Yes. We started in 2017 by introducing a module called gender in media and communication’ where students learn all issues related to gender and how to report on them. This course has never been part of the curriculum in the history of the school of journalism and communication at UR. The outcome of this training has been an increase of gender awareness among students – who not only appreciate but understand the notions of gender equality and equity. We even now have gender clubs with a spill over to other journalism schools in the country. Our partners, the Fojo Media Institute, with whom we have worked since 2015, have greatly contributed to this realization.

While the numbers are yet to be balanced, there has been an improvement in the number of female students recruited over the years. The challenge is that we don’t receive many applications from female applicants. Maybe this is what you, in the news media, should take up and embark on sensitising girls to venture into this profession.

It had been common at my school for female students to stay away from practical assignments such as operating cameras or editing, and they would prefer other tasks like interviewing or acting. This prevented their learning of certain practical skills. Over the years, I have addressed this by creating sex groups particularly in practical assignments such as TV production (video filming and editing) among other strategies. This way, each and every student is given an equal opportunity to take part in the learning process. Female students are now able to operate studio equipment, use video cameras to shoot video images and interviews, and edit video (technical editing) using a variety of editing software including Adobe Premiere and Final Cut.

Do you think leaders in the media are doing enough to hire and retain female journalists ?

Yes and no. Yes, because the creation of appropriate work environments and relevant policies and guidelines to gender mainstreaming in all media activities – including education and practice have been areas of concern in most media development endeavours in Rwanda. Even then, a recent study I did for Fojo Rwanda Media Programme to map out the gender situation in Rwandan media, confirmed the bitter truth that the gender composition in both media and media training institutions is still unbalanced. In general, there is inequitable allocation of journalistic roles between male and female journalists, and male dominance in management positions and key areas of reporting such as business and politics. In media content, there is biased coverage of women issues, salary discrepancies and a general misunderstanding of the concepts of gender equality, equity and their implications on society.

I also uncovered a weakness in the implementation of gender policies and guidelines, despite their existence at a number of media organisations. The poor handling of sexual harassment cases and fear of reporting such cases by the victims in order to keep their jobs is present though obscured. I think that gender mainstreaming in the Rwandan media needs to be understood in the light of fostering gender equality and equity in hiring staff and developing their capacity. A clear understanding of what gender equality and equity entail, and how they can be effectively achieved in the newsroom context ; inclusive and non-discriminatory work environment and policies, as well as professional treatment for both male and female journalists are needed.

For a long time, you have been the only woman in the journalism and communications school, and yet, with the highest education qualifications. Do you see the school being gender balanced in the near future ?

We are working on this but it is still hard. I trust that the number of female lecturers at the SJC will eventually grow in the near future, though it may not match that of our male counterparts. Currently, there are four women academics at the SJC with Alice Tembasi recently hired as a tutorial assistant and tasked with mentoring students at Radio Salus. My other two colleagues, Odette Mpungirehe and Jeanne d’Arc Mukamana are currently pursuing their PhD studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. Four is a significant change for the better. My prayer and hope is that with time, this gender gap will close at the SJC.

Is being an educator something you dreamt of when you were younger ?

Yes, but through the media as a journalist, and this is where I started. For 14 years before venturing into academia, I was an educational television journalist with then Uganda Television. I was producing weekly TV documentaries and shows, in the areas of environment, farming and reproductive health. This is where it all started. There was no better continuity than passing all this to future journalists and communicators and this is what I have dedicated the best years of my life to.

Do you have future dreams to achieve ? What are they ?

We will always have dreams and like all human beings ; it only stops when one dies or suffers a misfortune of sickness – the inevitable of life. Professors and all academics and researchers all over the world, are constantly seeking to update what we have done and interpret that in current and ever-changing contexts ; and continue to generate new knowledge to broaden the existing knowledge in our various domains. We want to leave a legacy behind through research, teaching, supervision and offering a service to the community.

What comments do you have on your most recent achievement of becoming a professor ?

This is something that I have been looking forward to and worked hard to achieve - by improving my pedagogical skills and work ethics with my students, colleagues and supervisors. I have researched and published in refereed academic journals and in reputable publishing companies in the fields of journalism, media and communication. I have written winning grants and made a financial input into the coffers of my university. Still, I would not have been here if it wasn’t for all the people who have been in my life as I performed my various roles of a daughter, student, wife, mother, friend, professional colleague, journalist, teacher, researcher, and consultant, among other roles. All these people, whose list of names would be inexhaustive if I embarked on it, have been my greatest mentors. Students, for example, have a lot to learn from, a lot of experiences and knowledge from their various personal contexts. So, in a lecture set up, I see myself as a learner or participant as much as a professor.

You won an award from Rhodes University in 2022. What would you say about this achievement ?

Indeed, the “JMS5O Alumni Award” of Rhodes University, was in recognition of my service and contribution to the East African media scholarly community. The homer is given to former students who have made a difference to society, media industry and academia. Rhodes University is where I studied for my MA and PhD. It was fulfilling to be recognised by this great institution of higher learning and I don’t want to let them down whatsoever.

What should we do to have more women follow in your footsteps and achieve that greatly ?

Work harder, at school and at the job. Don’t wait for others to do things for you but get them done yourself. The days of waiting for men to do things for us are long gone. In many parts of the world, women populations are higher than those of men – so the chances of dependence are slimming down by the day.

In Rwanda, the government has put every opportunity on the table for all its citizens but mainly for women. We should not ignore these efforts but take advantage of them. Gone are the days for women to feel sorry for themselves. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall down, what is important is your ability to get up each time of the fall.

Keep upgrading your skills and qualifications. If you don’t have a bachelors’ degree, enrol for one and the same goes for other post-graduate learning levels. Where there is a will, there is a way. Always.

The original story published in The New Times can be accessed here