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“You Are Extraordinary. You Are Gamechangers.”

Bwogger Eliza Staples attends a panel featuring three illustrious female journalists working in the Middle East, whose stories are featured in the new collection of essays, Our Women on the Ground.

On Wednesday evening, three female Middle Eastern and Arab journalists gathered in Pulitzer Hall to share their experiences reporting through conflict and grief. The stories they presented tonight are part of a collection of essays entitled Our Women on the Ground which features more inspiring tales from other women journalists working in or covering topics in the Middle East.

As many Columbia students know, all good things start from a Google Doc. This was certainly the case for the inception of Our Women On The Ground. Zahra Hankir, a Lebanese-British journalist is the editor of the collection. She was based in Dubai, working for Bloomberg News when she began covering the Arab Spring. She kept a running Google Doc where she wrote down the names of journalists who were writing about the events of the Arab Spring. In doing this, she realized there was a great disparity between who was being directly affected by the Arab Spring, and who was writing about it. The coverage was largely by male journalists from western news sources. Hankir wondered who else was telling the story and thus began to seek out the work of local, female journalists. Eventually, she found 19, whose stories are told in Our Women on the Ground.

Wednesday’s panel was composed of four people: Zahra Hankir, the editor of the compilation, two of the contributing journalists, Nada Bakri and Hwaida Saad, and a moderator, Ahmed Shihab-Eldin. Zahra Hankir is a Lebanese British journalist whose work has been featured on Bloomberg News, Vice, Al Jazeera English, and BBC News. She is a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School. Nada Bakri also attended the Columbia Journalism School and has written for publications such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Daily Star. Hwaida Saad has worked for the Beirut bureau of The New York Times since 2007. 

Although the authors in the book came from a myriad of countries and cultures, there were common threads among their stories. They faced obstacles: whether it was reckoning with the privilege of reporting on an intense story from a news bureau thousands of miles away, or experiencing the death of their most trusted sources, their fellow reporters, and their loved ones. The women on the panel also spoke to some of the positive aspects of their experiences as journalists: they were often allowed into homes or other private spaces and could speak directly with other women, which their male colleagues were unable to do.

Hankir, Bakri, and Saad addressed what they hoped the legacy of this book might be. Hankir insisted that she did not set out to create a book that would break stereotypes about Middle Eastern and Arab women. She simply wanted to collect a series of autobiographical essays from women working as journalists in the Middle East. At no point did Hankir edit this compilation to prove a certain point or dispel certain myths. These women do not go about their workdays intending to break stereotypes, but because of the often-difficult circumstances they work in, their daily lives are groundbreaking. 

This was an incredibly inspiring panel. I encountered three women journalists who were courageous, savvy, and sympathetic. They are just three of the nineteen women in this book, and barely a fraction of the many, many more female journalists out there, facing adversity to report the story.

The panel via Eliza Staples

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