Knight Fellow Amie Ferris-Rotman recalls feeling “all wide-eyed” when she first arrived on campus last fall from her former job as a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan. In those early days, her innovation proposal — a project called Sahar Speaks! aimed at advancing opportunities for Afghan female journalists — was little more than an idea.
Now, Ferris-Rotman says, “They’ve found our replacements, and my project has wings! I’m kind of pinching myself.”
Those wings came in the form of a recent collaboration with the International Women’s Media Foundation, which has taken Ferris-Rotman’s project under its aegis.
“I could not be more delighted that an organization like IWMF, whose reports I’ve used in my work for many years, wanted to take this on,” Ferris-Rotman says.
In its first year, Sahar Speaks! will aim to empower a group of 10-15 Afghan female reporters by providing training and mentorship by internationally experienced reporters — all of them female — within Afghanistan and beyond. (Sahar is a popular Afghan woman’s name that means “dawn.”) Ultimately, Ferris-Rotman hopes to partner with foreign newsrooms in Afghanistan to publish the women’s stories and, eventually, give them opportunities to work professionally.
The project arose out of a single, stunning statistic: according to Ferris-Rotman, “not a single foreign news outlet based in Afghanistan employs an Afghan woman as a journalist or in [any] news-related [role].” And it’s not because Afghan women don’t want to work as journalists: of 9,000 total Afghan journalists, Ferris-Rotman says, some 2,000 are women, and many of them do want to work for foreign news organizations like the New York Times, Reuters, or the Associated Press.
“We are targeting women who are aspiring or already working as journalists, just trying to get them into newsrooms and give them new skills,” Ferris-Rotman explains.
For the IWMF, a 25-year-old nonprofit “dedicated to strengthening the role of women journalists worldwide,” the project seems a natural fit.
“The IWMF is looking forward to working with Amie Ferris-Rotman and Afghan women journalists to help bring Afghan women’s voices to the international community,” IWMF Executive Director Elisa Munoz says in a statement. “They have critically important stories to tell, too often ignored simply because of their gender. We strongly believe that post-war Afghanistan will be greatly enriched by the inclusion of women’s perspectives.”
For Ferris-Rotman, it’s an opportunity not only to extend her project, but to change the narrative in Afghanistan.
“Right now, Afghan women are being covered by three groups: Afghan men, foreign men, and foreign women,” she says. With Sahar Speaks!, “the world will get a more accurate story.”
For more information or to get involved with Sahar Speaks!, visit Amie Ferris-Rotman’s website.