Sahar Speaks Encourages Afghan Women to Tell Their Own Stories

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Fardin Waezi / UNAMA
Afghanistan marked World Press Freedom Day in May 2015 with speeches and awards to journalists given at a ceremony in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Of the roughly 12,000 journalists working in Afghanistan, only about 2,000 are women, and none of them are employed by a foreign news outlet. Even after the fall of the Taliban and the withdrawal of US troops from the region, female journalists are still faced with threats to their safety, as well as social backlash.

Cultural limitations on contact between the sexes mean that there are spaces and stories that only female reporters can cover. Given this reality, it is becoming increasingly important to prevent the erasure of Afghan women’s stories due to the lack of female reporters.

Initiatives like Sahar Speaks, a fellowship program that provides media training to female Afghan journalists, are working to solve this problem. Founded in 2013 by Amie Ferris-Rotman, the name ‘Sahar’ comes from a common name for Afghan women meaning ‘dawn,’ an apt title for an organization providing a new beginning for Afghan women.

“Like all marginalized groups, Afghan women need investment. It’s down to the foreign press. If you don’t stick your neck out and help them, they can’t always help themselves,” says Ferris-Rotman.

A group of ten participants will be selected to receive intensive training in Kabul on how to report on a wide range of women’s issues. Each participant will be paired with a mentor who will connect her to a larger network of female foreign correspondents. Their work will be published in The Huffington Post, marking the first time female Afghan correspondents are published in a global media outlet.

While working in Kabul as a senior correspondent for Reuter’s, Ferris-Rotman noticed a staggering discrepancy between the small number of female journalists and the amount of foreign news coverage focused on women’s rights. She hopes Sahar Speaks will work to address the systemic failure of the international press to allow Afghan women, not foreigners or Afghan men, to tell their own stories.

“There are stories that only Afghan women can come up with,” says Ferris-Rotman, highlighting the need to incorporate more female voices into the press corps.

Ferris-Rotman says she expects the stories from the first group of fellows to be released in April 2016, and hopes that eventually the project will be entirely run by Afghan women. She said she has already seen an interest in other communities for similar initiatives, and hopes that together they can bring more female voices to the forefront.