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The shared stories at the Reporting on Women's Issues course

Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 19 Dec 2012 14:04 GMT
Author: Nevena Borisova
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Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Can a training course on women’s issues reveal much about the world as a whole? Can it help to make sense of universal rules in journalism, learn more about other cultures, share and hear precious human stories? Can it also be the reason for series of happy moments? When I applied for the training course organised by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, I could not imagine all of this. The course in Barcelona brought together 11 people from all over the world, who had experience in journalism and were interested in women’s issues in their own societies. One of these people was me, with a 5 years of experience in journalism and my life-long status of “woman”

On the surface, women in Bulgaria have no problems. What bothers them most seems to boil down just to men’s bawdy jokes. Bulgarian women’s magazines write mainly about what dresses suit red lipstick. However, serious problems go unsolved in Bulgaria. Bulgarian women receive low maternity benefits, lower salaries than men (15.7% lower in 2010, according to Eurostat data) and consequently – lower pensions. In addition, domestic violence is an acute problem, women being the most common victim, while single mothers are doomed to poverty.


The people with whom I explored the town and through whose eyes I viewed it came from India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Zambia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Mexico, Algeria, Zimbabwe and Romania.

The trainers were Mariane Pearl and Katie Nguyen – both of them world-class journalists. Mariane, our chief trainer, has worked for the most prestigious editions in the world of journalism – the Sunday Times, the New York Times, a host of French media, and Glamour. She was born in France and has a flair for delving deep into the problems of different societies. Katie worked for Reuters and spent years reporting on African issues. In contrast to Mariane, who has a profound knowledge of features and long form journalism, Katie has an inclination towards news. These two journalists did not simply teach us the knack of writing about women’s issues, but also showed us the ropes of journalism in general. We talked about different journalistic approaches, standards, particular ethical dilemmas and challenges. There I could feel the pure essence of being a journalist – a person who tells stories about the present in order to change the future.

Until the end of the course we were trying to come to grips with the differences in the ways people from opposite ends of the world perceive the place of women in their own societies. During the course we had a discussion in which everyone presented the problems of women in their countries. The underlying conclusion was that no one could justify social injustice with the explanation that it was just a peculiarity of a nation’s culture.

The News Xchange conference

The rare opportunity to attend the News Xchange 2012 media conference was part of the training course. The conference hosted delegates from all over the world. Many of them were leaders of media corporations and organisations or were prominent journalists in their countries. We were accompanied by Ms Jo Weir, Programme Director of Journalism Training, Thomson Reuters Foundation, (whose devotion makes this course possible), as well as by our two trainers.

At the conference we had the opportunity to learn about global trends in journalism, challenges and dilemmas related not only to journalism, but also to various societies and social groups worldwide. I will always keep in my mind the opening speech by the 2003 Pulitzer Prize winner Sonia Nazario, who called for listening to people’s voices and exploring in depth people’s stories. Ms. Nazario has made problems of immigrants a focal point of her work. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her newspaper series entitled Enrique’s Journey. It recounts the story of a Honduran boy, who travelled all the way through Mexico to the USA on the so-called “trains of death”, used to smuggle illegal immigrants. The gist of what Ms. Nazario shared is that where there is human pain, a journalist is needed to tell about it.

Women journalists

On the same day, Mariane moderated a discussion on women journalists and the positive practices of their work, such as their sensitivity to social problems, their keen emotional perception of the world, and their ability to put others at ease to share their stories. The discussion pointed out that women are just as professional as men. In certain situations and in some societies, a woman journalist can understand another woman’s problems better than anyone else, a woman journalist will be the only person another woman will confide in. Journalists such as Khazar Fatemi, Nima Elbagir (who could not attend the discussion because she was denied a visa but made a video address), Khadija Ismayilova – are all paragons of positive female qualities, as well as those of universal human courage and sensibility in their work. Ms. Fatemi, who made a film about Afghan people and the challenges they face every day, managed to learn a great deal about Afghan people thanks to her ability to lend a sympathetic ear and the confidence she inspires. Khadija told about the threats she had received during her investigations. She shared that sometimes she was met with distrust as journalist. The topics discussed reminded me that there were local challenges, but sometimes they were common to everyone.

One day there were mass protests in Barcelona. Organisers asked us to avoid the downtown – people looked angry – Catalonia was gasping under the burden of Spanish debt. While we were discussing Spanish problems, Mariane gave us a serious look: “That does not concern you so much. You have your own battles to win, right?” I hope that one day, in countries where there are problems, no matter whether related to women, media, or something else, battles for social justice will be fought and won – by journalists, by everyone.

On my way home, only one arrival counter out of four was working at the Bulgarian airport. While people were flocking in front of it like sheep to be sheared, a border officer was pointedly ogling the passing women.


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