Last week journalists from 11 countries gathered in Barcelona, Spain, to take part in a training course on how to report on women’s issues.
The course was led by journalist Mariane Pearl, whose book In Search of Hope is a collection of profiles of extraordinary women around the world. The course culminated in a visit to the News Xchange conference which brings together journalists, executives and others from the media world.
The opening writing exercise consisted of an inspirational quote and a short essay on the participants’ reactions to being selected to attend the course, shared experiences with members of the group and their feelings about women’s issues.
Here is a selection of contributions:
Shuriah Niazi from India:
I remember the day when I met a girl named Preeti on my way to a city called Mandsaur in Central India. Preeti must have been around 11 at that time. She belonged to the Bachada community, who were known for caste-based prostitution. Preeti changed my thinking and my journalism as I decided that I should write more on issues concerning women. Preeti was standing at the highway waiting for the customers, as her parents had forced her into this profession. Caste-based prostitution is common among two tribes – the Bachada and Bedia community. Prostitution is an acceptable way of life for these people. Parents and brothers initiate their daughters and sisters into the flesh trade, procure costumers for them and thrive on their earnings. Many government schemes had come and failed to rehabilitate them. Preeti had changed the way I think about women. As I started my journey for Barcelona, I was thinking to learn new things from the trainer and other participants. I was also thinking about knowing what are the issues concerning women in other countries. Do they have the same problem like India? I was also thinking how this course would be helpful for me in developing a network of women citizen journalists which I am planning to develop. I am impressed with Wafia from Algeria and the work she has been doing for women in her country. But every visit to a training programme or a workshop reminds me of the girl, who brought me into women’s writing. Will I be able to find her and help her?
Wafia Adouane from Algeria:
I was at the airport coming back from Austria when I’ve received a phone call telling me that I’m shortlisted to take part at the women issues reporting course. I can’t believe it at first…
I’ve just spent some time with my new friends coming from different backgrounds, I’m really excited and happy to be given this opportunity. We’ve discussed about the different issues women are facing, actually it’s the same, more or less, in my community.
I’m coming from a rural zone and I do feel the suffering the women of those areas are going through.
I feel that it’s my duty to help those women starting in my community. I’ve talked about my project “Women-to-women in TIC” that I started almost two years ago in Algeria with the help of many NGOs and ministry of communication & TIC. It’s aimed at empowering educated women in rural zones via technology. My biggest challenge is how to reach those women. I mean, how can I leave a strong impact on them to defend their rights themselves?
Therefore, I’m here to acquire new writing skills to reach as much women as possible … since I do believe that media is really a powerful tool to impose a change.
Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam from Pakistan:
I confess I have not grown up in circumstances of deprivation, gender bias or inequality. My father had his roots in rural Pakistan but I grew up as a young urban Pakistani in a very sheltered home. I had no idea for the longest time that women in my country and in this world go through the atrocities that I covered as a journalist. Naivety broke with journalism coming into my life and my first feature being about the plight of women inmates in the Karachi Central Jail. All I know is that I am a people-centred person – I love people. I want to know them, relate to them, empathize with them. My struggle remains whether I should be a journalist or a writer. I hope to be both. Because today as I sit down as one of 11 participants whom Reuters has graciously invited to Barcelona to teach us more about how to report women’s issues, my excitement is about stories! Our first exercise involved me sitting with Saraswati from Bhutan and Alexis from Mexico – both vibrant young journalists. I cannot wait to talk more with them. Blog about what all we shared. Our commonalities and our differences that makes this world so beautiful. Alexis is breaking my bubble when I state defiantly that Pakistan is THE most dangerous place in the world for journalists. He tells me that Mexico is second on the list. He is a proponent of legalizing drugs in Mexico. He explains why. Mexico has lost a hundred thousand people to drug wars in the last six years. Saraswati is talking about her modern urban friend who was not allowed to visit her parents’ home … by her UK-educated husband who beats her up. Human differences and commonalities! We bond. We relate.
I have recognized my trainer. It is Mariane Pearl. She knows Pakistan, I am thinking. She knows what it is like to report in a conflict zone….in a society polarized, yet with so much good coming out of its people, especially women. My experiences of life have taught me that women need a voice. I am neither anti-men nor a radical feminist. I am a woman and proud to be one. But any vulnerable group needs to have its voice heard. When a woman is beaten or denied her right of inheritance or when she doesn’t have the empowerment to earn or save her earnings, or when she isn’t given the chance to decide which form of contraception to use or at which age should she marry, someone needs to speak up for her or teach her to that for herself. I am her voice. And I am mine.
Ni Ni Myint from Myanmar:
Because of poverty and low education, many women (in Myanmar) have being trafficked to China to be maids or wives of Chinese men. The issue of sex workers is also crucial in Myanmar. There are no red light areas for sex workers in Myanmar. The sex workers business is not legal in Myanmar. Sex worker can be fined. They can also be fined for being in possession of condoms even though it is legal for women to possess condoms. It is a form of discrimination ...
There are not many journalists in Myanmar who cover women’s issues because of education for journalists is lacking in Myanmar and journalists themselves want to write about politics and other hot issues. So Myanmar needs more journalists to empower women by pen. I’m a journalist who addicted to writing about women and their issues. So I applied for this training. All in all, Myanmar is now in a transition period to democracy and I hope there will be more women in parliament …
Alexis Angulo from Mexico:
Three a.m. and I got an email from Belen asking me if I knew anyone from Mexico with experience working on gender and women issues who spoke English and was able to take a course in Barcelona. I said to myself, “This is for me!!”. I sat the rest of the morning writing a short essay about the situation of women in Latin America and my opinion about it. Four hours later I got the confirmation that I have been accepted and the tickets to fly to Spain. I couldn’t believe this was happening and you can imagine how excited and lucky I am to be surrounded now by many committed journalists with so much experience in a workshop facilitated by Mariane Pearl.
By talking to some of the trainees, we have found many similarities when it comes to women issues. Farahnaz from Pakistan, for example was impressed when I told her that Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries for journalists too and how the war on drugs was causing gender and women’s issues. On her part, she told me how difficult it is for a woman to be a professional within journalism:“You have to make your own place”. In Pakistan, just as in Mexico women struggle within our field to get a voice and be treated as equals. If a newspaper does not treat its female workers as equals it will hardly ever do a good job reporting on women.
Ioana Matei from Romania:
I never read Women’s magazines and sometimes I brag about that. Therefore, I do not know what are the latest trends in fashion and make-up or what tiny little puppy you should always carry in your bag. These are what the middle class women’s issues look like for the media in Bucharest. And also in the rural areas. The girls that live in my grandfather’s village learn how to use lipstick, before knowing the alphabet. I think it was always comfortable for me to adopt the visions of my friends and fellow journalists. Discrimination, aggression, diseases that affect women were just accidents, even though statistics looked alarming. I treated them like car crashes – I looked away to protect my psychological well-being. Disturbing violence against women happens, but in far away places on the Globe. Or so I thought.
After hearing all the stories of fellow trainees in this course I sadly admit I was wrong. If I were to enumerate now all the women’s issues in Romania I could probably talk a whole day and it would not be enough. I came to realize that I was blind because I did not want to see and I hope that through this course and through the stories I will hear from my colleagues, I’ll learn how to see.