Women have many houses including media houses

Date: January 1, 1970
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A small but remarkable community of women publishers and media owners are making their mark on Southern African?s print media landscape. Yet, rarely does this extraordinary group of women blow their own trumpets, often choosing just to get on with the work.

A few of these women were on hand at the second Gender and Media Summit held in Johannesburg 7-8 September 2006 speaking about their experiences and the challenges of operating in the male-dominated media industry.
Zarina Geloo owns and edits The Guardian Weekly in Zambia. After a year in business, she is quick to admit competing with established and well-resourced public and male-owned publications is no stroll in the park.
“I am doing pretty well considering I received absolutely nothing in terms of financial support from any institution.  From week to week, I don’t know whether I will have a paper or not.  I have managed to remain in business by the sheer force of my personality.”
After listening to women from Zambia and Botswana it became clear that when it comes to women owned publications, the traditional yardstick of circulation and quality editorial content does not count when assessing such publications.
Instead, readers and advertisers, mainly male, tend to dwell on the personality of the owner, and how well they adhere to the status quo in terms of news presentation.
Once the sisters decide to break from the norm, they suffer from lack of advertisements and buyer boycotts. 
It was heartening to hear these women recount their experiences and the daily challenges they have overcome in order to get their newspapers out. I realised these are serious businesswomen, all made of stern stuff.  These entrepreneurs have risked not only their life’s savings but also their professional reputations by daring to publish.
Finance tops the list of challenges for female publishers. Ordinarily attracting investors for media projects is never easy.  Investors are reluctant to pour money into media ventures and even more so when the project initiators are women. 
Beata Kasale owns and edits The Voice in Botswana. Kasale says despite producing a quality product that leads the market in terms of circulation, her newspaper is facing major challenges securing advertising. 
The paper prints an average of 30 000 copies each week and returns are low. She adds her publication is cash-strapped and therefore, cannot afford “scientific reader surveys to lure potential advertisers to use a paper with wider readership.”
Alternative sources of funds, advertisements and street sales offer little relief to the women.  Men constitute the majority of decision makers in industry regarding advertising budgets. Geloo notes it’s almost impossible to get advertisements from male industry players lest they let down “one of the boys and are sidelined from the club for playing with girls.”
The same applies with street sales. Women are keen to buy and read publications published and edited by other women but most cannot afford to do so.  Instead, women have to wait for men to buy and then read. 
As Geloo points out, male readers may not want to buy publications by “some girl who is obviously being sponsored by a rich sugar daddy.”
These publishers pay a high price for daring to present news from fresh angles free from gender stereotypes; such women publishers are not popular with decision makers who control advertising budgets in companies.  Kasale says The Voice is considered a “sensational trouble maker” that upright Botswana does not read. 
Then again, you certainly cannot keep a good paper away from readers.  Kasale says the paper’s high sales figures “just go to show what a hypocritical nation we are.  Crying foul with one eye and reading the paper with another.”
Pat Mwase comes from the Zambian Copperbelt where she publishes a weekly mining newspaper targeted at mining communities concentrated along the Copperbelt.  She took over the publication of the paper from international mining conglomerate, Anglo American. 
Mwase says it has not been easy to keep the paper on the street. Once printers and vendors knew they were dealing with a woman, she says they started giving her the round around.  She says she had to work extra hard to command respect from them. 
These women work hard as Jills of all trades becoming media’s superwomen.  On an average day, women publishers are editors, advertising sales representatives, human resource managers and distributors.  It’s not that they don’t welcome help.  They do. They just don’t have they money to pay for professional help and in some instances competent men are reluctant to work for women.
The tenacity that the women display in the face of such challenges should be encouraging for women readers and activists.  In their publications, these women are raising critical issues that competing papers are reluctant to run for a variety of reasons. 
Summit delegates heard how The Guardian Weekly ran a story about sexual abuse of a junior officer by the Zambia’s Airforce Commander and how the commander was “punishing” the junior officer when she wanted to withdraw her sexual favors.
Despite the numerous challenges, women publishers are mentoring young journalists in their newsrooms, creating employment in their respective countries. In addition, such publications are giving a fresh dimension to issues while providing healthy competition to existing publications.
Readers, a round of applause for southern Africa’s women editors and publishers please! We have here brave entrepreneurs who work hard each day and are investing more than just money to lead more than one house by being media house owners.
Miriam Madziwa is a freelance journalist based in Zimbabwe. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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