Afghanistan is often cited as the worst place on the planet to be a woman and one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. In a country still reeling from more than 13 years of war, only a fifth of local journalists are women. And no female Afghan reporters are working on the ground for international outlets.
All of this means that Afghan men and foreign reporters are the ones left trying to tell the stories of a notoriously insulated population. But here’s where a tenacious new initiative comes in. Sahar Speaks will train Afghan women as reporters and multimedia-minded journalists. With guidance and support from a network of experienced mentors, these women will produce news packages that’ll be featured on The Huffington Post and our social media channels, marking the first time female Afghan correspondents are published in a global media outlet.
Color and compassion are some of the most powerful tools we have as journalists. Sahar Speaks is all about empowering women to harness those tools to tell stories about their country and their lives. We couldn't be more honored to support a platform for an under-covered demographic that’s grappling with some of the most pressing issues of our time -- relentless violence, human rights, religious conflict, the right to an education for both boys and girls, the ramifications of extreme poverty and access to comprehensive health care.
“Sahar” is a common female name in Afghanistan that means “dawn.” The moniker is a fitting one because this project represents a new beginning, providing Afghan women with a skill set that will benefit generations to come.
Amie Ferris-Rotman, the determined journalist driving Sahar Speaks, is a name worth remembering, too. She has spent her reporting career in London, Moscow and Afghanistan, working for newsrooms including Reuters, Foreign Policy and The Atlantic.
Ferris-Rotman came up with the idea for Sahar Speaks while covering an electrifying, female-only rock festival in Kabul. The organizer banned men in order to create a safe space, but with mixed results: the event went all but uncovered, save for for Ferris-Rotman’s Reuters piece, because no other media outlets had female reporters or camera operators.
“It became clear to me that we need Afghan women to be the ones to produce interesting stories about Afghan women's lives, as seen through their eyes and expertise,” Ferris-Rotman said. “My dream would be that one of the Sahar Speaks participants will be taken on by one of the foreign news outlets in Kabul, either as an intern or full-time journalist.”
“Since the official U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, interest in the region has significantly decreased,” she added. “As someone who covered the country for two years (2011-2013), this infuriates me. A country does not cease to exist just because U.S. and NATO troops have left. So I'm excited because Sahar Speaks will put Afghanistan back on the news agenda, but more importantly, it will be the first time Afghan women will write for the international press -- ever.”
The Huffington Post is striving to support this kind of coverage on several other fronts, too.
"Women Of War" is a series of video dispatches by Iranian-born journalist Khazar Fatemi, who has dedicated her life to shining a light on women and children in places like Afghanistan, Turkey, Syria and Iraq -- amplifying their stories beyond “the din of violence.”
Chime for Change is one way our founder hopes to help train women journalists in Greece.
Our Middle East correspondent, Sophia Jones, recently spent weeks traveling with Syrian refugees headed for Western Europe, profiling women making the arduous journey and the many other women along the way who are offering a compassionate helping hand.
Sahar Speaks and Ferris-Rotman are serving as a tremendous inspiration for us here at HuffPost -- and a reminder of why we’re in this business at all. As an organization with some seriously strong female leaders at the top, with Liz Heron as our new executive editor and Arianna Huffington as our editor-in-chief, we support this project as part of HuffPost’s public pledge to empower women around the world to take a stand and share their stories.
Sahar Speaks is launching this month; applications are available now. The training session in Kabul is slated for February, with an eye toward foundational journalism skills and overcoming bias against women in the workplace. HuffPost then plans to edit, publish and promote the work of these women -- and true to our ethos, we'll aim tell these stories in visual ways that leverage social media platforms so we can reach readers where they already are.
But even if you’re not in Afghanistan, Sahar Speaks is a cause worth rallying around.
Please join us in supporting stories of hope and survival, storylines that give us all a better understanding and empathy for the way others live, what they face each and every day. Visit the Sahar Speaks website to donate and follow us on Twitter @Sahar_Speaks.
Katie Nelson is news director at The Huffington Post. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or @katienelson.