Organiser Fray worried about pushback against women’s leadership

Women claiming their stories and raising their voices

Londiwe Dlomo Journalist

“Mr Vice-President, I’m speaking.” These words were uttered by US Vice-President Kamala Harris during a debate with her predecessor Mike Pence, as he spoke over her.

These words resonated with a lot of women around the world. One of these women is Paula Fray, a journalist, entrepreneur and media development trainer. Fray took up these words as a call to arms and is using them for her global conference, titled Claiming Our Stories, Raising Our Voices.  

The hashtag for the summit, which is happening all day on Thursday is #IMSPEAKING. Fray hopes those women who can’t join the summit will be able to follow it using the hashtag.

“2020 has been a really difficult year just generally, [because of] the pandemic but also there’s been a huge pushback against women’s leadership and people are really feeling quite exhausted and we, Fray College and Fray Intermedia, are engaging with quite a number of civil society organisations to help women leaders particularly to just reset at the start of 2021 and to rebuild energies in order to continue with activism and also to continue telling powerful stories as journalists,” Fray explained.

When Fray was reaching out to organisations worldwide she says she received a healthy amount of enthusiasm and positive responses.  

“We were even more pleased about the level of participation and the kind of sessions that we are actually able to conduct," she said.

There will be 47 speakers from 34 countries in the all-day online conference. Among those speakers will be Dr Julie Posetti, global director of research for the International Centre for Journalism (ICFJ), who will be speaking on ‘confronting the global scourge of gendered online violence’.   

“There is a lot of research that really kind of reiterates that women face a particular kind of gendered impact of online violence and in fact because of that, the conference is looking at online security when we’re using social media for change. We’ve got Dr Posetti who will be talking about the research that they’ve done and how women can actually respond to it,” Fray said.

The summit is targeted at women in journalism, activists and civil society but anyone can join.

Other topics to be discussed include women and elections, how women can help change the political landscape, leadership and how women can use technology for the betterment of a community.   

Fray, a former editor of the Saturday Star, said that research has shown that the lockdown due to the global pandemic has been particularly hard on all women.

“There has been a real gendered response in terms of who is retrenched, has had salary cuts, who is bearing the burden of childcare when our children are schooling from home, who is bearing the burden of care when family members are ill. And so very often we don’t even think of that as unusual. We accept it as the way the world works,” she said.

These experiences are stories that women need to tell, stories that need to be heard in women’s voices and Fray believes that part of bringing women together is being able to ask the question of how do women claim their own stories?

“We have a voice, what we need to do now is  to think about how we raise our voices towards a particular end,” she said.   

When asked where she thought government fit into this conversation, she said: “One of the major issues is that a robust, a really robust journalism sector and a robust civil society sector are essential pillars of any democracy. I do acknowledge that government has a role to play. I think that we also need to be able to focus on whether we as journalists or if we’re in civil society, whether we are  also playing our role, a very active citizen role in a democracy.”

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