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Nov. 12, 2015, 1:52 p.m.
Reporting & Production

Sahar Speaks, partnered with The Huffington Post, aims to open doors for female reporters from Afghanistan

One-fifth of the approximately 9,000 journalists in Afghanistan are women, according to Sahar Speaks founder Amie Ferris-Rotman. But none were working for any of the foreign news outlets in Kabul.

22 people killed at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, following a U.S. air strike. A 19-year-old woman stoned to death in a Taliban-controlled village in central Afghanistan. These stories burst into public consciousness when the news first breaks, then recede after a few days. Moreover, these stories are rarely, if ever, covered by female Afghan journalists, and strict social limitations on interaction between men and women still exist in many parts of the country, leaving a gaping hole in news coverage of the real experiences of women there.

A new initiative called Sahar Speaks, founded by longtime foreign correspondent Amie Ferris-Rotman, aims to offer cohorts of female Afghan reporters structured media training, mentoring by other female journalists (volunteers who are experienced foreign correspondents), and ultimately, publication of their work in The Huffington Post.

One-fifth of the approximately 9,000 journalists in Afghanistan are women, according to Ferris-Rotman, who began working on the initiative as part of her John S. Knight fellowship at Stanford. But none are working for any of the foreign news outlets in Kabul.

The Huffington Post pulls in well over 200 million unique visitors a month, more than half from outside the U.S. Ferris-Rotman hopes that the Sahar Speaks media partnership will unlock large new audiences for underreported issues in Afghanistan and also launch these women reporters into serious careers as correspondents.

“We’ll cover topics that no one else can do but Afghan women. There are so many non-reported or under-reported stories about how Afghan women are coping in the aftermath of this war,” Ferris-Rotman wrote in an email. “I hope that some will be willing to go to their hometowns in the countryside. What about these illiterate women in villages in the middle of nowhere? Do they still live by tribal law? What rule of law applies? Have the last 14 years of the U.S.-led war made any impact on how women are treated? After 14 years of the U.S. and others telling them they have and deserve rights, what has happened since then, after the troops moved out?”

“Women in Afghanistan are dealing with incredibly pressing issues, from human rights issues to extreme poverty to the right to education,” said Huffington Post news director Katie Nelson. “One of the most amazing aspects of this partnership is that we can provide a platform for an incredibly undercovered population. I think that it links so well with the overall Huffington Post mission to inform, inspire, and empower.”

Nelson got to know Ferris-Rotman after she reported several pieces from Nepal following the earthquake earlier this year, and through these interactions also learned about the Sahar Speaks initiative Ferris-Rotman had been working on. The Huffington Post publishes 15 editions worldwide, with two foreign correspondents in Istanbul and Beijing, and was looking for ways to offer better, more detailed, on-the-ground coverage of the challenges people living in other countries faced. And Ferris-Rotman said she was impressed by Huffington Post’s female leadership, which, “after a decade of foreign reporting experience in a very different, often male-dominated environment,” felt “refreshingly welcome and exciting.”

Sahar Speaks, which is currently accepting applications for its first round of 10 reporters (photo journalists also welcome), will bring the reporters together early next year for training on topics like how to use social media, how to pitch, and how to create multimedia elements around a story. Training will also include a session on women in the workforce, and how to address harassment. The deadline for this first round is January 3.

“Recruitment will rely largely on word-of-month and social media, but within invite-only social media groups, because in Afghanistan there have been many issues of sabotage and harassment from men,” Ferris-Rotman wrote. “I’ve never seen a nation that barely has roads use Twitter as much as they do. They are super plugged-in. They have 4G and they use it all the time. The central electricity goes out often, but they still have their phones and social media platforms.”

Huffington Post staff will also help select reporters, and when stories from the trainees are ready, it will help edit, package, and promote them on its website and through its other social channels. While the subject matter and presentation for these stories will depend on the interest of the women reporting them, Nelson said she envisions they will be “highly visual,” and that the team will work to weave in social media to reach audiences where they already are. The reporters selected will also write blog posts about their experiences living as women in Afghanistan.

“We hope this can create a foundation of skills and expertise these women can carry for rest of their lives,” Nelson said.

Photo of four girlfriends by Lauras eyes used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Nov. 12, 2015, 1:52 p.m.
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