New Anthology Empowers, Celebrates the Role of Professional Women Journalists Covering the Mideast
“Don’t shy away from writing about your community, your people, or your home country or region, so long as you uphold the highest journalistic standards,” the late David Khatell told Lebanese-British journalist Zahra Hankir, which inspired her latest work.
“Our Women on the Ground” (Harvill Secker, 2019), edited by Zahra Hankir, compiles a groundbreaking essay collection by 19 Arab and Middle Eastern female journalists, reporters, and photographers. Divided into five sections, these essays combine memoir and reportage to give perspective into the obstacles women journalists face when covering news in dangerous and oppressive countries, where they often encounter sexism and harassment. In an interview with Pen America, Hankir said, “I made sure I included a broad range of contributors in terms of their religious and cultural backgrounds: nationalities, ages, ethnicities, and political learnings. My hope was to demonstrate the diversity of the region through their stories. I worked quite closely with almost all the contributors on shaping their essays, without ever instructing or coaching them on how they should speak their own truths.”
Photographer Amira Al-Sharif, one of the essayists, said, “Whenever I think of giving up, I remember I cannot because many girls are relying on me to show the world what fighting spirits they are.” CNN chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour writes in the book’s introduction, “To become a journalist in some of these places takes a special kind of courage for a woman...It can mean defying family and community, and it brings unique challenges and entails sacrifices specific to women.” Editor Hankir explains that these writers are “twice burdened,” as they not only come from places that mistreat women “worse than anywhere in the world… they are also some of the most repressed reporters in the world.”
As cited by Maria Golia in the Times Literary Supplement, Roula Khalaf, the editor of the Financial Times and a seasoned foreign correspondent, who is also of Lebanese descent, calls members in her field a ‘“dying breed” now, when they are needed more than ever” in lieu of increased citizen journalism and activist reportage in this digital age, as well as budget cuts targeting foreign news bureaus. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson of NPR writes, “Hankir says her goal in creating this collection was to amplify the voices of women trying to shape and document Arab history, "without projecting themes of women's issues and patriarchy onto them." She succeeds at the former, but I don't see how one avoids the latter.” She continues, “There's a deep fascination in the West with how women function in ultra-conservative societies where repression can be violent and even deadly. This anthology pulls back the curtain on those places, while connecting readers to brave and incisive female journalists who help us better understand the Arab world.”
Copyright © 2020 by Al Jadid