“No Woman’s Land – On the Frontlines with Female Reporters“


More than 30 women journalists have contributed to a new book called ‘No Woman’s Land: On the Frontlines with Female Reporters’, which will see its proceeds go towards safety training for female reporters.  The publication will be officially launched later today by the International News Safety Institute (INSI) in a bid to offer “an unprecedented insight into the safety of women journalists working in conflict and danger zones”.

Journalist Frances Harrison, a former BBC correspondent, is one of more than 30 contributors to the book

Contributors include CBS chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan, whose assault while reporting from Egypt last year prompted the idea for the book. Logan penned the publication’s foreword, in which she says: “I remember begging for my life. I remember giving up.””It is important that we as women doing dangerous work in hostile places are equipped with knowledge and foresight.

Knowing how important it is to stay on your feet in a mob, meant that every time my legs stumbled or gave way or were dragged down, I fought my way back up, saying over and over in my mind, ‘you have to stay on your feet or you will die’.”Somehow, somewhere, like a light in the back of your brain, your training and experience kick in, even in the midst of that chaos.”

But what cannot be taught or trained, is the knowledge of who you are. That is the light that will guide you to recovery in the dark months or years that follow. That is the light that showed me so clearly how important it was to speak out and not to hide.”The book aims to offer both insight into the experiences of the many women journalists reporting from across the world, some anonymously, as well as advice for others who may find themselves in similar situations.

Frances Harrison, one of the book’s authors who has been a BBC correspondent in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Iran, spoke about the issue of being a mother and foreign correspondent simultaneously in a feature for Journalism.co.uk ahead of the book launch.

Below are some other brief extracts from the accounts shared by women in the new publication:

Jennifer Griffin, Middle East correspondent, Fox News Channel“The decisions that we as female journalists covering wars make on a day-to-day basis are different than those of our male colleagues. These days I mostly travel with Pentagon officials on VIP trips so the journey is not that dangerous. From prior days and prior wars, the most important safety tip in my experience is to dress appropriately. No low cut blouses or sleeveless shirts. And literally cover your ass. Longer blousy shirts or tunics are better than anything skin tight. Most of the convulsed countries are conservative, if not Muslim, and dress code matters. You don’t want to invite unwanted attention.”

Judith Matloff, North America director, International News Safety Institute“Indeed, instead of pulling women back from the field, managers should ensure they receive proper training in order to make sound judgments. Employers should ensure rape prevention is introduced into safety training. Women must learn how to set verbal boundaries so that predators keep a distance.”Women should hang alarms on their doorknobs so that predators can’t break in. And supervisors should have frank conversations so that female staff feel comfortable confiding should the unmentionable occur.”

Bay Fang, incoming deputy assistant secretary of state for press and public diplomacy for Europe, US State Department”Male or a female, you have to use your own judgement as to whether it is more beneficial to be low profile, or to have additional security which might make you stand out. Being a woman, especially in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, makes it easier to be low profile.”

“I have never thought of myself as a female journalist.

I think of myself as a journalist full-stop.”

Paying the ultimate price … Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin, who was killed last month. Marie Colvin was killed in the Syrian city of Homs Photograph: Dmitri Beliakov/Rex Features

The International News Safety Institute has published the first book dedicated to the safety of women journalists, No Woman’s Land – On the Frontlines with Female Reporters“, to coincide with International Women’s Day. The brutal attack on Lara Logan in Cairo’s Tahrir Square last February was the genesis for the book, which features the experiences of 40 contributors from more than a dozen countries.

At INSI, we were inundated with requests for advice and safety tips for women working in dangerous situations.

At the time, there was no single point of reference for this, but as we worked to create one, we realised there could be no “one size fits all” approach to the debate about the safety of women journalists covering conflict, disaster, civil unrest, corruption and terror.

And a year later, that is still the case.Just a few days after “No Woman’s Land”went to print, the news of Marie Colvin’s death provided a terrible reminder that danger often doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender.

But sometimes, like in Logan’s case, there are special and additional risks for women. Describing her ordeal at the hands of “300 baying men”, she writes:”I want everyone to know I was not simply attacked – I was sexually assaulted. This was, from the very first moment, about me as a woman. But ultimately, I was just a tool.”

The lengths some of the women have gone to and the personal risks they have taken to tell their audiences the truth are extraordinary.

Somali investigative journalist, Fatuma Noor, describes the immense cultural and personal challenges she faces:“Coming from a very conservative community, it has not been easy [to work as a female journalist] – not only because of the community, but also because some family members have always had problems with my career. I have covered the Somali community in Kenya and Somalia, where it is culturally wrong for a woman to ask men questions and to travel without having your husband or family around.”

And yet, she goes on to describe how she went undercover into a Somali brothel in Nairobi and how another occasion, she was kidnapped as she travelled with a group of Islamic insurgents from Nairobi to Somalia.Fellow contributor Shumaila Jaffrey explains how “being a woman journalist in Pakistan is in itself a great achievement”.

Recalling her coverage of the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, she writes;”I still remember in one of the areas, a local mosque’s Imam issued a fatwa that men of faith should not marry women who had been working in quake hit areas.

“For those women reporting far from home, some of the greatest challenges have been adapting to different cultures. The book provides tips from the contributors about how to better blend in to foreign cultures, which often includes wearing the right clothing – something that was repeatedly mentioned by those who covered last year’s Arab spring uprisings.

Sometimes it’s not about blending in, when being a woman opens doors to parts of society and to a different angle on war and disaster.

The BBC’s Caroline Wyatt writes:

“We were welcomed into homes which no foreign male correspondent was allowed into, and we were privileged to hear and film the stories of women of the north in a way none of our male colleagues could. And perhaps we brought a different perspective to the war: a little less focus on the bombs and bullets, and more on what the end of the Taliban’s rule in the north would mean for the families we met, and for their future.”

Her BBC colleague Lyse Doucet believes that in many places she works western women are treated as a “third gender”.”We aren’t treated like the women of the place. We aren’t treated like the men. But in traditional societies, where hospitality trumps ideology, we are almost always accorded the special privileges afforded to guests. In conservative societies, that also includes a belief that women need to be protected.”

Doucet talks about many Egyptian men who helped escort her through rowdy crowds in Tahrir Square last November. The same place. But a very different outcome from that experienced by Logan a few months earlier, who writes:”This was about something bigger than all of us – it was about what we do as journalists. That ancient tactic of terrifying people into submission or silence. I do not believe it should stop or deter women from doing this kind of work. Or travelling to such places.”It’s a passage that lies at the heart of the book, a passionate testimony to the bravery of the women who have contributed and to their female colleagues, and evidence of the dangers they face in their work.

Hannah Storm is deputy director of INSI and co-editor of “No Woman’s Land – On the Frontlines with Female Reporters“, which is available to buy at www.newssafety.org, with proceeds going to safety training for female journalists.

So says award-winning Egyptian journalist, Shahira Amin, in a new book on frontline reporting by female correspondents, supported by UN Women. “No Woman’s Land”, released this spring by the International News Safety Initiative, compiled by Hannah Storm and Helena Williams, features the voices of over 30 reporters as they recall episodes of harrowing assault and inspirational bravery in contexts from conflict to civil unrest.

The reflections were collected shortly after the violent sexual assault of CBS correspondent Lara Logan by a crowd of men as she reported from Cairo’s Tahrir Square in February 2011. Logan, who wrote the foreward to the book, has been credited for voicing concerns that many female reporters have formerly suppressed, out of fear for their professional freedoms and reputations.

It signifies a new chapter of debate on the safety of women journalists in the changing landscape of media security.The collection features correspondents’ experiences of sexual threat and hostile crowds; of dealing with protectionism from male editors, yet also the awareness of their differing vulnerabilities in global hotspots. Many are matter-of-fact about the challenges.

“I felt vulnerable,” said freelance journalist Agnes Rajacic, who was also molested by male activists while covering the Arab Spring in Egypt. But, she adds, “I saw it as an unavoidable evil that one could face in any crowded European football stadium.”

Other female journalists have been frustrated by the overt and gender-specific focus on the threat of rape.

Tina Susman, former bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times in Baghdad, writes that rape has long been the least of her worries, including during her three-week long captivity in Somalia. “Perhaps because rape is not a job-specific threat like bombs and missiles (and giant bugs), it doesn’t occupy my mind on assignments the way those other threats do,” she writes.

“Like our male colleagues, our main concerns are staying alive and keeping our brains and limbs intact.”The common sense and security training most often used by female correspondents on assignment is directed at neither gender. However cultural norms, which restrict women’s mobility in many countries, can both help and hinder their work.

As many note, in very conservative contexts they may be shrouded and reliant on male colleagues, but here too they often gain access to women-only environments, and therefore a broader range of stories and perspectives. Being underestimated at work – a major frustration – has also been used to many a female reporter’s advantage.

Journalist Nisha Roshita recalls being assigned to conduct tough high profile interviews in Indonesia specifically, she says, because of her gender. “And as a woman, it was easier to talk to local people without them becoming suspicious,” she adds.Yet what emerges most strongly from these recollections is the diversity of experience among women reporters, and the need for a strategy that empowers their work instead of restricting it.

“Rather than questioning the wisdom of sending women into potential perilous duty or worrying for their safety, editors and news organisations should focus on preparing women (and men) for the threat of sexual violence and helping them avoid it.” says Susman. “I’ve rarely heard anyone say of men: ‘They’re too macho and always run toward the action, so maybe we shouldn’t send guys into war zones.’“

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