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.