Journalism: Keep female foreign correspondents on the front lines
Since the news of Lara Logan's sexual assault, while reporting from Egypt on the day Hosni Mubarak stepped down, people have asked whether it's safe for female correspondents to cover war zones and if it's responsible for editors to send women to the Middle East, where it's not uncommon for a woman to find herself in a compromised situation.
In Saturday's New York Times, two female foreign correspondents answered these questions based on personal experience.
In Reporting While Female, Sabrina Tavernise wrote, "I have worked in Gaza, and a half-dozen countries since the late 1990s, including Lebanon, Pakistan, Turkey and Russia. In none of these places was I dragged off and raped, but I have encountered abuse in many of them. The assaults usually took place in crowds, where I was pinned in place by men." She continued: "In my experience, Muslim countries were not the worst places for sexual harassment. My closest calls came in Georgia with soldiers from Russia, a society whose veneer of rules and civility often covers a pattern of violence, often alcohol laced, toward women."
Kim Barker agreed that sexual advances and assaults have always been a part of the job. In Why We Need Women in War Zones, Barker wrote: "I was hardly alone in keeping quiet. The Committee to Protect Journalists may be able to say that 44 journalists from around the world were killed last year because of their work, but the group doesn’t keep data on sexual assault and rape. Most journalists just don't report it." She then praised Logan for stepping forward and breaking the code of silence. "She has covered some of the most dangerous stories in the world, and done a lot of brave things in her career. But her decision to go public [last] week with her attack by a mob in Tahrir Square in Cairo was by far the bravest. […] Although she has reported from the front lines, the lesson she is now giving young women is probably her most profound: It’s not your fault. And there’s no shame in telling it like it is."
Just as consequential, Barker also argued that female correspondents help give a voice to the many unheard women in war-torn and corrupt countries. "Look at the articles about women who set themselves on fire in Afghanistan to protest their arranged marriages, or about girls being maimed by fundamentalists, about child marriage in India, about rape in Congo and Haiti," Barker wrote. "Female journalists often tell those stories in the most compelling ways, because abused women are sometimes more comfortable talking to them. And those stories are at least as important as accounts of battles."
--Alexandra Le Tellier
Photo: In this Feb. 11 photo released by CBS, "60 Minutes" correspondent Lara Logan is shown covering the reaction in Cairo's Tahrir Square the day Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Credit: CBS News / AP Photo