Reflections and lesson learned on gender in the media sector from MTV-Shuga Naija’s Talent Accelerator Programme.

Joelle Mak, Olubukola Funmilayo George, Sara Piot

In 2021, MTV-SAF received funding from the Global Innovation Fund (GIF). This funding was used to develop and produce a new season of MTV Shuga in Nigeria, focused on gender-based violence (GBV), as well as wider themes, including HIV (through additional funders). The development integrated broad local partnerships to create locally relevant and impactful content, which effectively reaches extensive youth audiences.

While capacity strengthening has featured to some degree in our collaborations (e.g. we provide training to the NGOs who deliver our community outreach and ongoing support to the production companies who create the content), our partnership model has principally focused on garnering local perspectives and expertise to create impactful mass media.However, there is an opportunity to do more.Through a more focused and strategic approach to partnership working, we can simultaneously enhance our media, while also building local capacity and expertise on the ground.

We conducted desk research on published reports of media campaigns with a focus on gender in Nigeria. We conducted qualitative interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs) with stakeholders from the local media sector and with a range of cast and crew involved in MTV-SAF Naija Season 5. We also introduced an intimacy coordinator role to ensure a safe environment throughout the production. We evaluated the Talent Accelerator Programme (TAP), designed to strengthen the capacity of young females seeking to enter the media sector. As part of TAP, 11 young female interns were matched with each department, mentored by the Heads of Departments (HoDs). A total of 42 individuals were interviewed for this study. We provide some lessons learned on capacity strengthening programmes and ways to monitor and evaluate them.

Mapping of the media sector

We drew on the Girl Effect and Good Business media landscape review conducted in 2023 and searched organisations that produces similar gender-related media campaigns. In Nigeria, there were several media campaigns focusing on young people and sexual reproductive health, including: Love Matters Naija, Right, Evidence, Action –Amplifying Youth Voices (REA), MTV Shuga Naija, Nigeria Urban Reproductive Health Initiative (NURHI) and Our Right, Our life our future.

Most campaigns were identified that focused on adolescent reproductive rights, behavioural changes, policies formulation and advocacy to stakeholders of SBCC campaigns. In Nigeria, the following campaigns were identified: Nigeria Urban Reproductive Health Initiative (Inc. Get it Together Campaign), Women’s Health and Equal Rights Initiative, Financial Empowerment Workshops (FEW), Nivi, Our Right, Our Lives, Our Future (O3) Project and Strengthening HIV Self-Testing in the Private Sector (SHIPS). These campaigns focus on reproductive rights of women and girls as well as the inclusion of men in family planning. It also examined the contributions of social institutions, stakeholders in the community, and social networks.

Most Nigerian programmes focus on positive sexual health and empowerment for young people aged 16-25 (MTV-Shuga, Youth-Powered Ecosystem to Advance Urban Adolescent Health (YPE4AH)), including diverse and non-binary youth (REA). Most offer comprehensive evidence and right-based information across digital, traditional and offline channels (Love matters), pleasure-positive messages (REA). Several aimed to equip adolescent girls with skills and knowledge and make their own decisions (A360), promoted rights through digital literacy and citizen journalism (Girls Voices Initiatives), improve health behaviours and practices through sensitisation, demand generation and service delivery, (Breakthrough action, Discovery+ Talk shows, Impact Ed- My Better World (Shaina)), YPE4AH). Advocacy is also a key component and may involve government, the media, and civil society leaders (NURHI) or youth-led organisations (RNW Media, 2017). These can focus on amplifying young people’s voices in political and digital media spaces (REA), shifting gender attitudes and practices to support women in leadership positions (Voice for Change).

Another locally produce gender specific programme, Gender Agenda, is available on YouTube and Facebook. The programme addresses wider gender-issues in Nigerian society and provides inclusive opportunities and representation for women in politics and media. It is not specific to young people or SBCC.

Interviews with the crew that worked on MTV-Shuga Naija S5 described MTV Shuga as a show that is different in both approach and theme. The storylines centre on young people’s lives and priorities whereas other programmes that include youths often only do so tangentially, with the main focus on other storylines and characters, or use a more public service announcement approach.

Gender issues in the Nigerian media sector

Stakeholders interviewed describe the Nigeria media sector as one with opportunities for learning and growth. Many recalled taking on a range of voluntary roles to make the right connections which can be difficult for those with no existing networks. Formal internship programmes can be one way to facilitate such connections. However, these programmes may rely on the crew’s capacity and interest to teach and mentor, which can be problematic in a sector with low security and high competition.

Some stakeholders felt there were no specific gender-related barriers to entry and that those who work hard and make themselves indispensable can succeed in the industry. Several referred to the sector as one that offers a level-playing field with space and recognition for females, both in front of and behind the camera. Stakeholders highlight the key roles females play in many departments, including those traditionally dominated by men, such as light and grip, while female gaffers are also increasing.

These opinions were not consistent across those interviewed. Several participants raised limitations due to gender- and age-related stereotypes, workplace dynamics, and societal expectations. Both genders felt their gender limited the roles they can do on a production. Females are associated with roles in the make-up and costume departments, and are limited to producing content related to lifestyle and fashion. Whereas males are more often associated with roles and departments that are seen as more technical and physical. Participants described gender biases that question their competence and leadership potential when working outside of the perceived gender appropriate areas. These limitations can affect the progression and trajectories of individual careers, and limit representation. Perhaps due to an increased awareness of gender inequality issues in society, both male and female participants felt males have fewer opportunities as more productions explicitly seek greater female representation on their teams.

Crew members and mid-level creatives additionally highlighted the gender pay gap, perceived to be widely prevalent in the sector, and the need to prove one’s ability, sometimes repeatedly. Both male and female participants perceived the other gender to be at an advantage.

Capacity strengthening within existing structures to support and invest in female creatives can address some of these issues. Such efforts should be institutionally-led through funding and investments beyond the production to ensure sustainability.

Age was noted as intersecting with gender, resulting in different opportunities and barriers for males and females. Male participants reported a younger age as associated with a lack of experience, leading to challenges in progression and in salary negotiations. The ability to negotiate conditions is seen as an important skill in the sector particularly as there is no unionised protection. One stakeholder expressed this as a positive way to encourage individuals to know their worth and negotiate their rate accordingly. However, in practice, young people may not have the power to fairly negotiate. Among females, ageism can impact differently, where they are seen as less marketable and may be given fewer opportunities as they get older particularly for roles in front of camera, despite gaining more experience. Female crew members and mid-level creatives also noted the challenges of managing caregiving responsibilities with a career in a sector dominated by demanding and irregular hours.

Experiences on MTV-Shuga Naija Season 5

At the start of production, a meeting and workshop covering gender-related issues, safe working environment, forms of unacceptable behaviours, as well as channels for reporting inappropriate behaviours. Participants appreciated this workshop at the onset, as it provided a clear message of how these issues are managed and addressed before they arise.

Participants involved in MTV-Shuga Naija Season 5 were asked what they thought about the production, relative to other productions they have worked on in Nigeria. Key factors mentioned included the planning, organisation, the right structures in place, with clear roles and a crew with the right skillsets. The crew and HoDs also reported that seeing females in roles more traditionally associated with males also changed their own perspectives on what women can do on set. Multiple interns described feeling inspired, and changed their perspectives even in their own capabilities.

The exclusive focus on providing opportunities to females was questioned by some participants, including interns, who are all females. HoDs and interns both described similar challenges faced by young males trying to enter the sector. There were mixed feelings on whether future iterations of TAP should consider offering a few spots to males.

Most interns had positive experiences with TAP and HoDs, on the whole, were impressed by their enthusiasm, work ethic, professionalism and how well they fitted in with the wider team.

Some HoDs were less proactive but were available and responsive if the interns had questions although the onus was left to the interns. This ad hoc nature of mentorship meant the learnings varied. In addition, several interns experienced challenges that negatively impacted their experience. These included challenges with communication, expectations and lack of clarity and guidance with the role. In some cases, interns described not being integrated into the team, limited or no support. Lack of engagement was also described by HoDs who felt their intern was not really interested in the sector.

When asked to reflect on key benefits of taking part in MTV-Shuga, several interns described gaining learnings and practical experience which helped them decide if they could see a future in the industry and the department they worked in. TAP also enabled interns to learn from the challenges they encountered, particularly on communication, interpersonal and conflict resolution skills. Interns also valued having had experience working with a large international production. Multiple groups felt having this experience on their CV improve their competitiveness in future productions.

MTV-Shuga Naija employed an intimacy coordinator for this series. The role aimed to ensure a safe environment for cast members and support them to assert their boundaries when planning intimate or potentially trigger scenes, such as those relating to gender-based violence. The Intimacy Coordinator also worked with the directors to understand how the scene should be translated to achieve the desired look and feel. This was also beneficial to the wider crew, especially the directors, who would normally have had to manage intimate scenes. This role is the one many participants described as necessary and something they would incorporate in their future work.

Lessons learned on capacity strengthening programmes

The internship programme would benefit from a formalised structure outlining the aims and communicating these clearly to both interns and HoDs and ideally to the wider crew. This would help ensure clarity of roles and expectations in the programme. For example, HoDs were meant to keep in touch with the interns for six-months following the end of TAP to see how they are doing. On the whole this did not happen and where it did, it was rather ad hoc. Having the programme goals clearly outlined would also clarify what the programme outcomes are and how it should be evaluated.

The selection of interns would benefit from more specific criteria. Some suggested interns should have some familiarity with the department they propose to join to ensure a basic level of understanding of what type of roles and activities it may entail. H0Ds also need to be properly oriented to the programme with more clarity on roles and expectations. Ideally, they could also be involved in the selection process as they will be working closely with the intern. Expanding the internship to offer options for male interns could be done in departments more traditionally associated with females (e.g., costumes, hair and make-up) and retain those considered masculine for female interns as a way to shift gender norms in production. In addition, a dedicated post should be created to coordinate and manage the internship programme through day-to-day support, problem solving issues as they arise and conduct regular check-ins with interns and HoDs support and monitor intern progress.

The internship duration could be extended to enable interns to experience the pre- and post-production. Additional workshops could be provided at the beginning, potentially during, and at the end of the programme. This would also help build rapport among the interns. In TAP, interns produced weekly videos to document their experiences and applied the skills learned. While interns appreciated the practical element, the sole focus of their experiences as intern were limiting. Instead, there was a preference for the group to develop and produce a short film together. To incorporate this in future programmes, more support would be needed to help interns navigate and negotiate ideas within the group.

In addition, support for female mid-level creatives should be expanded in the future. This could include the initial plans of offering mentorships with established senior professionals in the industry, potentially including those within and outside of Nigeria. Although this was the initial conceptualisation, there were challenges due to timings and securing mentors. In the future, more time needs to be devoted to identify and set up this component.

Lessons learned on monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation activities need to be better timed to ensure access to participants. This study was envisioned to be conducted in-person. However, visa delays meant most activities had to be shifted online. The delays meant many participants had moved on to new productions and had limited time to take part in the interviews. Although we made alternative provisions to conduct FGDs in-person, in practice, very few attended. However, virtual interviews encountered connectivity issues, impacting the fluidity of discussions.

The short-term nature of such internship programmes can be difficult to evaluate. To improve monitoring and evaluation activities, some activities should be embedded in the internship programme to ensure some time is available during the programme to collect process data. Longer term follow-up could be considered, particularly for interns and mid-level creatives to understand whether taking part in MTV-Shuga Naija expanded future opportunities in the media sector, and the types of content and productions they later joined.

Market Analysis of Adolescent-Focused Multimedia Channels Good Business & Girl Effect 2023.

Breakthrough Action, 2018

RNW Media, 2017