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Kenyan Woman



MARCH 8, 2014

Eunice Mathu: Kenya’s sole surviving female media owner By Jane Godia


f anyone has the authority to speak media ownership on the Kenyan market, it is Eunice Mathu. Her magazine, Parents, hit the vendors’ rack in July 1986. That’s 332 editions as at March 2014. The print run for the launch edition was 25,000 — and a sellout, marking the beginning of a journey that has seen her make an indelible mark in the media industry.

Long gone are the days when Parents was a 32page black and white production. These days, it puts out some 80 pages or so. But one thing remains consistent: the cover belongs to regular Kenyan couples and their children. It is a complex mix of human interest stories, profiles — and the sex word, once considered too crude to be read out aloud in the Press, is never too far away in the cocktail of stories listed on the cover, though some might prefer to think of it in the more genteel term “reproductive health”. About 20 couples reportedly request to be put on the cover each month.

Recognition The formula has earned her the reputation of favourite aunt, and many of her readers will stop her in the streets with a word of greeting. “Often, they will call out and say, “Are you not Eunice of Parents magazine?” she says with the smile of a woman who does not go out of her way to court publicity. Mathu’s achievement is made all the more remarkable when you consider that some of the magazines that have come and gone have been pretty powerful and influential. They include the Weekly Review, the political analysis publication that was a runaway success in its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, and the women’s premier publication Viva, which put cookery and the political story together in one powerful package in the 1980s, and was the forerunner of the very gracious Eve and Lady. Despite tough competition from the East African Magazines stable of society magazines — which includes True Love, Drum, Adam and latest entry Move — Eunice Mathu’s professional baby continues to hold its own with circulation figures of up to 40,000 and a readership of 6.5 million, according to Steadman reports.

Market The Kenyan market has long been perceived to be a graveyard of magazines, many of which come and go without so much as a whimper in the absence of long-term investment prospects such as those offered by the South African connection that the East African Magazines stable enjoys. What, then, is Mathu’s secret to success? The answer is slow and considered: “Parents was not the first magazine that I had engaged in. I started publishing a consumer publication known as Consumers Digest in 1984. However,


MARCH 8, 2014

Kenyan Woman


Teenage girls remain under threat of sexual exploitation

Eunice Mathu, the proprietor of Parents Magazine, which has been in the market since July 1986. About 332 editions have been published as at now. Picture: FILE

By Jill Anami


irls as young as ten years are having sex in Nairobi County, according to a report released by the Nairobi Brain Trust.

Consumers Digest failed to make inroads because at the time Kenyans were not into consumerism. Circulation was slow and business was difficult if you were going to go to the same advertisers for two publications.”

The report reveals that about 53 per cent of girls aged between 10 and 19 years are reported to have had sexual intercourse.

She eventually opted to put Consumers Digest to sleep and stayed with the family theme, which “lacked a proper read” in her opinion. She then thought of throwing profiles into the mix, which would provide a platform where people would talk about their lives, marriage and sex—subjects that nobody wanted to talk about even though they were topics that touched on daily lives.

Naomi Bosire, director Women Concern and Child Focus, a civil society organisation in Kisii County. She blames the increased cases of defilement in Gusii region to the out of court settlements initiated by the elders. Picture: ben oroko

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Mathu decided she would venture into this maiden territory. This, she believes, is why Parents edged out Consumers Digest and continues to enjoy a readership base that grows by the day. “Despite competition being out there, with big players coming in from outside the country with big cash which we don’t have, we have continued to move on steadily,” Mathu says. She is aware of the challenges that come with publishing and changing trends. “Because of technology, people are no longer reading hard copy and most have reverted to the Internet. This has led to newspaper readership going down and alternative media taking over.”

Stability “The nature of the magazine is to strengthen families and that is why we are cautious about the price, otherwise the minimum price that the magazine should be selling would be in the range of KSh400.” Mathu’s business has remained steady even in turbulent times. But even good old Parents was hard-hit in the chaos following last year’s postelection violence. “We lost ground in Eldoret and Kisumu when vendors moved off the streets. Many of the old vendors are no longer there in these two towns, and this has affected the market,” she says. In Nairobi, vendors are often harassed by city council officials and this has also affected sales. Says Mathu: “Casual vendors who would otherwise assist with sales on the first few days that the magazine hits the market are no longer there.” Nevertheless, she remains confident. “Parents is well grounded and able to cope,” she says, not unduly shaken by the challenge of a growing pool of competition and new media. “Emerging media is made up of lifestyle journalists, but is it giving us any role models? Are these magazines real?” When she started out, the print media was a two-horse race, with only two newspapers, the Standard and Nation. There were also very few people in the media. She adds: “Now there is so much media. It’s difficult fighting for that same cake with over 70 radio stations, so many magazines, newspapers and TV stations. The media industry is too wide for readers and advertisers.”

The rise and rise of lifestyle magazines does not

“It’s only responsible media that are not partisan that can change the direction this country is taking. If we are partisan, the trust that the public has placed on us is abused. eunice mathu, media owner

pose a major challenge to her, even though they are popular among young people who aspire to the life depicted in the magazines. “The lifestyle magazines give the impression that every Kenyan is rich, yet most Kenyans are poor,” she argues. “This is what makes all these magazines different from Parents, which is read all over the country, including areas where no other publications reach, and is for people raising families.” Mathu, who is a founder member of the Media Owners Association and the Association of Media Women in Kenya, adds: “If I want a lifestyle magazine, there a many international titles that are on the magazine racks. Already, this market is exposed to so many other sources of information.” Indeed, she confides, she has registered many titles but will not be launching any other magazine soon because she reckons the market is too

crowded while the advertising base remains the same. She adds: “It is a question of giving readers what they want without appearing to be duplicating. Already there are so many magazines in the market from out of the country and people are spoilt for choice. The issue of sustainability is major here. We have seen many magazines launched and unfold within a very short time.” What Kenya needs, she adds, is responsible journalism that encourages Kenyans, not partisan journalism. “It’s only responsible media that are not partisan that can change the direction this country is taking. If we are partisan, the trust that the public has placed on us is abused. The fact that the media are trusted and powerful should not be abused. Tell the truth without colouring it.”

Domination The fact that boardrooms are male-dominated also concerns Mathu. “Our main newsrooms have been unfriendly to women, barring them from reaching the top echelons. Most women who would have gone up have been edged out. We need women at the top with responsibilities.” Mathu the businesswoman is concerned that women who have started media organisations have pulled out and taken other directions—the most recent examples being Sheila Amdany of Radio Simba and Rose Kimotho of Kameme fame. But women also do not help their case when they fail to map out their career path to rise to the top. “Women must fight for their position,” she adds. “Know what you want and be patient enough to make sure you get it.”

Kangaroo courts a barrier to justice for victims of defilement By Ben Oroko


efilement remains a challenge posing threat to girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights.

However, justice for survivors of defilement is still a major challenge in rural communities where village headmen and clan elders continue settling defilement cases through ‘kangaroo’ courts to the detriment of the victims. According to Naomi Bosire, director Women Concern and Child Focus, a civil society organisation in Kisii County, defilement is one of the sexual and gender-based violence vices depriving girls of their sexual and reproductive health rights. Bosire accuses clan elders of protecting perpetrators of the vice by negotiating for out of court settlement deals, thereby denying victims their right to justice. “Justice remains elusive for defiled girls from the Gusii community due to the out

of court settlement deals brokered by local clan elders who derail the process of accessing justice through the courts of law,” explains Bosire.

Setback She attributes increased cases of defilement in Gusii region to the out of court settlements initiated by the elders. “Settling defilement through kangaroo court deals brokered by clan elders not only denies victims their right to justice through courts of law but also exposes them to social stigma and future retaliation from their assailants,” observes Bosire. She laments that majority of defilement cases collapse due to out of court settlement deals which compromise credible legal action against perpetrators since such deals interfere with incriminating evidence against the perpetrators weakening cases before a court of law. Bosire underscores the need to train village and clan elders on procedures that must be followed when cases are reported

to them, especially on the need for one to go to hospital within 72 hours to ensure that evidence is not tampered with. “The elders should be sensitised on the dangers of colluding with the perpetrators of defilement,” says Bosire. According to Felix Ogeta Programmes Officer Coalition on Violence against Women (COVAW), Nyanza Region, activists must be vigilant in the war against sexual gender based violence through intensified community sensitization campaigns and networking with relevant county and national government institutions. Ogeta calls for concerted efforts in the war against sexual gender based violence by including all stakeholders in the society. “There was an urgent need for COVAW to equip community activists with skills in paralegal to help build their capacity on aspects of the law in relation to dealing with sexual gender based violence cases as part of the efforts of making the society violence free,” says Ogeta.

Most of them get pregnant before their 17th birthday, with many dropping out of school to fend for themselves and their children. Poverty, parental neglect and lack of information have been blamed for the sorry state of affairs. Mary, a street girl in Nairobi County says that she got pregnant at 14. “At a tender age of thirteen, I lost both of my parents and with no immediate family to lean on, I opted for the streets where only the fittest survive,” says Mary. She recounts: “I was forced to engage in sexual activities as a way of livelihood. At the age of 14, I got pregnant and eventually gave birth to a baby girl in the streets with no proper ante-natal care.” However, Mary is not alone. Most of her peers in the streets are either pregnant or nursing babies they can hardly take care of. Access to sexual reproductive health services remains prohibitive to most adolescent girls from lower socio-economic class.

Study The study by the Nairobi Brain Trust reveal that vulnerabilities of the urban poor differ from those living in the rural areas due to the high cost of living, environmental and health hazards, sub-standard housing and exposure to insecurity. In addition to this, there is increase in sexual exploitation of women, girls and child abuse as well as a high prevalence of HIV and AIDS. According to the report, 92 per cent of the adolescents engage in sexual activities as a means of survival. “Having dropped out of school and no employability or entrepreneurial skills, adolescent girls are easily lured into commercial sexual exploitation by friends and peers who are already active in the practise,” reads the report in part.

The report says that commercial sexual exploitation heavily influences the sexual and reproductive health of the adolescents engaged in it. “This exposes them to various physical and psychological harms that affect their health and future lives as adults. Majority are likely to get unwanted pregnancies, with 38 percent opting to get married, 36 per cent opt to carry the pregnancy to full term and 24 per cent resort to induced abortion. The report notes that coerced sex against adolescent girls is rife in Nairobi City, especially within the informal settlement, but despite increased awareness and availability of legal frameworks to deal with the vice, it remains seriously under reported. “Hence many young girls continue to suffer from sexual abuse, violence, incest or rape and endure its resultant physical and psychological effects agonizing silence,” adds the report.

consequences Forced sex leads to considerable health consequences, including those related to unsafe abortions. Sexual coercion is so pervasive in some crime prone slums in the city. Gang rape being the most common yet the most under reported case. Adolescents living in such areas with high crime rates or areas with criminal gangs increase adolescent girls’ sexual and reproductive health risks. For the very vulnerable girls in the society like the disabled, 28 per cent of the girls have experienced non-consensual sex, 22 per cent reported to have been commercially sexually exploited.

Challenges Vulnerable adolescent girls, who include the poor and disabled, face serious challenges including discrimination to access sexual reproductive health information and services. “Awareness raising and educating young people on sexual reproductive health is important and urgently needs to be done. There is need to provide reliable, explicit, accurate and correct sexual reproductive health information for the adolescents both at national and county level as well as address their plight within the existing health provisions frameworks and structures,” the report urges.


Special issue of the Kenyan Woman newspaper for International Women's Day 2014


Special issue of the Kenyan Woman newspaper for International Women's Day 2014