Know what a panel made up of men only is called?… a manel.

And if the moderator is a woman, or there is a token female?  It is still a manel.

No matter the subject, unless the topic under discussion is of purely male purview, there is a fundamental problem if a panel is all male. You may have never noticed that there is something wrong with these, or considered there could be something wrong with it. That is because we are steeped in a male centred culture that implicitly registers such things as normal. Manels are constituted almost subconsciously, sometimes by women. However, there is now concerted effort effort to change this culture, and usually, the first step is calling it out, especially in the fronts where it is visually manifested. One of these fronts is all male panels. They are common in the media, conferences and events.

A common (false) argument producers of panels give for having all male panels is the absence of women  willing to participate, or them not knowing those that are willing to participate. There are several issues that would make women have reservations about taking part in panels. They are at the centre of the design of the constitution of these panels;  They include the time when they are scheduled and the execution, for instance setting up panels as shouting fests. Solutions to these are being pursued.

Bingo card for excuses given for not having female speakers. Source: Jezebel via Gender Avenger via Medium
Bingo card for excuses given for not having female speakers.
                       Source: Jezebel via Gender Avenger via Medium

Beyond calling out manels, there are other well articulated efforts to show that the excuses fronted as arguments are false. A  concerted effort has given rise to a list of qualified women willing to take up speaking engagements. Almost 400 women have signed up, and, according to one of the convenors, “are, more importantly, willing to show up”. Nanjira Sambuli, Ory Okolloh and Sophie Gitonga initiated the efforts on the list. Nanjala Nyabola assisted in putting it together.  Nanjira is a Digital Equality Advocacy Manager at the World Wide Web Foundation and Ory is the an Investments Director at the Omidyar Foundation. Both are vocal on and offline and are regular feature in panels where occasionally, they are the token female. One session particularly stands out for Nanjira;

She once sat through a session with 10 journalists representing East Africa discussing the challenges in their industry. They were all men. There were several women from the profession in the room. Of course she made up a lot of noise when they opened up the floor for audience contributions.

Media can be conservatively considered a profession  where female representation has progressed, albeit still way too low. Findings of a 2014 survey by the Africa Woman and Child Feature Service placed the composition of women working in media in Kenya at 33% as opposed to males at 67%.  It is telling that the 33%’s experience wasn’t represented in the abovementioned discussion, or was, retrogressively, assumed as represented by the men.  The research further noted that women were only 18% of those of those who were heard, seen or read in political news.

The list represents concrete engagement on the issue of constitution of panels. It is publicly viewable and searchable and can be populated publicly through this form . The experts are listed according to their fields of interest. So, you can search by areas of interest as well.  The database also contains a link to their professional profiles (LinkedIn), links to previous speaking engagements and articles they’ve published. Once someone is selected from the list for a speaking engagement, the team behind the list will provide contact details to the event organizer who will then get in touch the person. Speakers who can not make it to events they have been invited can use the list to recommend their replacements. The SayNoToManels team will from time to time organize public speaking workshops for novice speakers.

The team also challenges men to pledge to not take part in manels, and organisations to pledge not to organise any. In addition to that, everyone is encouraged to call out any manel online. The twitter hashtags that highlight these  are #SayNoToManelsKE and #SayNoToManels for Kenya. Other digital initiatives highlighting this include #AllMalePanels and a Tumblr page that globally crowdsources images of all male panels.


Featured Image: World Economic Forum

Leave a Reply