Giving female journalists a voice in developing nations

Zubeida Mustafa helps illuminate the lives of women in Pakistan

Global Voices: Truthdig Women Reporting, a collaboration between Truthdig and the International Women’s Media Foundation, launched in June with a piece by Pakistani journalist Zubeida Mustafa that complicates the picture of her country, as portrayed in the Western media, as a place where women are only victims of oppression and violence. Without minimizing the challenges Pakistani women face, she tells a story of female air force pilots, academics, and doctors, and the efforts to create opportunities for poor women and girls. It is a distillation of what Global Voices is all about: giving readers a more nuanced understanding of developing countries through the voices of their leading female journalists.

In addition to Mustafa, the writers come from Thailand, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Mexico. All have all been honored by IWMF for their courageous journalism. Mustafa was the first woman journalist at Dawn, Pakistan’s oldest English-language newspaper, and the first woman on its editorial board. CJR’s Julie Lasson Fromowitz caught up with Mustafa over email to talk about the new project.

How will Global Voices influence coverage?

Countries like Pakistan do not have the resources to penetrate the mainstream media of the West. We do get coverage, but often we feel the information conveyed is biased to fit the agenda of the country and society where the media outlet is based. The tendency is for the media in the West to look at our societies in black and white and through the prism of Western culture. Global Voices will allow us to tell our own stories as we understand them.

What kinds of stories will you cover?

The stories will be about education, healthcare, youth, environment, climate change, and the impact of the globalized economy on my people. I will write about women who live in difficult times but still survive. I will also explain where and why things have gone wrong. 

Can you give an example?

One story I would like to tell readers in the US is about how violence has assumed the proportions it has in Pakistan. You cannot forget history—at least recent history through which I have lived. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was used by the US government to make Afghanistan the “Soviet Vietnam.” The Pakistan government, under General Ziaul Haq, a brutal military dictator, became a willing partner to the scheme of fueling the Islamists’ insurgency in Afghanistan by providing the mujahideen arms and indoctrinating the youth in the refugee camps with literature in praise of jihad. That was the beginning of the move to use religion for violent political purposes.

How are female journalists in danger today?

Both men and women journalists are equally in danger when violence is so rampant and there are governments and nonstate actors who do not want the truth to be known. Any journalist who is honest and has integrity is in danger.

How do the stories that women tell in Pakistan differ from the stories that men tell?

Women reporters’ stories are different—in fact, richer—for two reasons. One, they have more access to information from female members of a family or even society. Women talk to them more freely. Second, men are more interested in politics than the human dimension of a story. Probably it has something to do with our patriarchal society. Even men who are supporters of women’s rights.

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Julie Lasson Fromowitz is a CJR intern