one kabul-based jour­nal­ist is train­ing women to join the ul­ti­mate front­line in jour­nal­ism

Good things come out of anger,” says Amie Fer­ris-Rot­man, founder and di­rec­tor of Sa­har Speaks.

Amie is a Bri­tishAmer­i­can jour­nal­ist with a decade of ex­pe­ri­ence as a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent. She’s re­ported from more than a dozen coun­tries and, from 2011 to 2013, worked as a se­nior cor­re­spon­dent for Reuters in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she be­came in­creas­ingly dis­ap­pointed by the lack of fe­male jour­nal­ists in the coun­try.

“I tried in vain to hire women, but was met with fierce op­po­si­tion by our lo­cal male staff,” ex­plains Amie. “It soon be­came clear to me that the en­tire sys­tem was flawed – these women were not be­ing hired across the board, and never had been.”

While the lo­cal Afghan press corps – a rel­a­tively free press of around 9000 re­porters – con­tained about 2000 women, there were no fe­male re­porters at in­ter­na­tional news out­lets in Kabul. Not at the BBC, The New York Times, Reuters or the As­so­ci­ated Press. None, that was, un­til Amie cre­ated an en­tre­pre­neur­ial news pro­gram, bear­ing one of the most com­mon fe­male names in Afghanistan: Sa­har.

Af­ter notic­ing a lack of FE­MALE rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Kabul’s in­ter­na­tional PRESS CORPS, one jour­nal­ist set out to get more JOUR­NAL­ISTS on the FRONT­LINE.

“It also means ‘dawn’, herald­ing the be­gin­ning of a new era, where Afghan fe­male re­porters can tell their sto­ries to the world,” says Amie.

In 2013, Amie was se­lected as a John S Knight Jour­nal­ism Fel­low at Stan­ford Univer­sity, where she de­vel­oped Sa­har Speaks, which of­fers the men­tor­ing, train­ing and pub­lish­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties nec­es­sary to give a voice to women in Afghanistan. It is the first pro­gram of its kind to pro­duce con­sis­tent and high­qual­ity jour­nal­ism from fe­male Afghan cor­re­spon­dents in the global me­dia.

“We hope to change the par­a­digm that has con­tributed to the marginal­i­sa­tion of women’s voices,” says Amie, adding that Afghan men and for­eign men and women are the ones telling the sto­ries of Afghan women, de­spite their lack of con­nec­tion to the re­al­ity of women in Afghanistan. Strict cul­tural cus­toms that pro­hibit most Afghan women from speak­ing to Afghan men pose fur­ther bar­ri­ers.

“With­out hav­ing Afghan fe­male cor­re­spon­dents, ac­cess to these sto­ries is near im­pos­si­ble for men, and dif­fi­cult for in­ter­na­tional women.”

One of the rea­sons for the absence of women at for­eign news out­lets was re­lated to the way for­eign news me­dia es­tab­lished them­selves in Afghanistan af­ter the civil war.

“Most of the bu­reaus [and] of­fices were es­tab­lished dur­ing and af­ter the Novem­ber 2001 oust­ing of the Tal­iban. They were set up by for­eign­ers who em­ployed the same male fix­ers and trans­la­tors they had used to cover the civil war. Many of these men be­came es­tab­lished in the news or­gan­i­sa­tions and of­ten hired their rel­a­tives and men they knew. Women were never part of this,” says Amie.

“Things that we take for granted are enor­mous hur­dles for them, such as walk­ing down the street [with­out be­ing ha­rassed] or go­ing around town at night. But these im­ped­i­ments do not mean they’re not worth hir­ing.”

Refin­ing her idea dur­ing her 12 months at Stan­ford, Amie says her fel­low­ship taught her she had to be tougher; she needed to ap­pear more firm in what she be­lieved in and self-pro­mote. The fol­low­ing two years she lived mainly off sav­ings, with a few free­lanc­ing gigs on the side, while try­ing to cre­ate Sa­har Speaks. It was re­jected “from just about every grant-giv­ing body out there”, and Amie, who now wishes she had brought on an ad­vi­sory group, had mo­ments of anx­i­ety and de­spair be­fore the UK’s Kestrel­man Trust pro­vided seed fund­ing.

Of­fi­cially launched to the world in De­cem­ber of 2015, Sa­har Speaks’ pi­lot round took place in March 2016. Dur­ing this time, 12 women re­ceived train­ing in pitch­ing, writ­ing, in­ter­view­ing, pro­mot­ing sto­ries and cre­at­ing mul­ti­me­dia, and worked with their men­tors to each write a story that would be pub­lished on The Huff­in­g­ton Post, giv­ing them “the world-class at­ten­tion they de­serve”, says Amie.

Each as­pir­ing jour­nal­ist was paired with an in­ter­na­tional cor­re­spon­dent.

“I was amazed by how global the response was, which just un­der­lined the im­por­tance and ne­ces­sity of this project.

Women are half of the world, not just of a sin­gle coun­try, and Sa­har Speaks’ pur­pose shone a light on is­sues sur­round­ing women across the world.” >

With­out hav­ing Afghan fe­male COR­RE­SPON­DENTS, ac­cess to these STO­RIES is near im­pos­si­ble for men, and DIF­FI­CULT for in­ter­na­tional women.

Tah­mina Saleem takes pic­tures on Nadir Shah Hill, also known as Kite Hill

First class in the Sa­har Speaks class­room, Kabul

Sa­har Fe­trat speaks to an­other jour­nal­ist in Kabul

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