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WAM 2009 Ends in the USA
By Rachel Horner in USA
Apr 2, 2009, 17:02
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A conference organized for journalists, activists and other professionals from different works of life, known as the Annual Women Action and the Media-2009 (WAM 2009), has ended in MITs Stata Center Cambridge, MA in Boston USA.

Organized by the Center for New Words, the conference attracted journalists and media practitioners from the corporate and independent spheres, gender activists, media scholars, academicians and persons who care about the role the media plays in our cultureand womens role within the media all over the world.

The goal of WAM is to bring together everyone who has a stake in achieving gender justice in media, in order to share facts and ideas, develop skills, build collaborations, bridge differences and create action plans. This years confab brought together more than 600 participants to exchange observations, ideas, experiences, opinions, and tools for change and plan together for action.

WAM provides space for women journalists, editors, publishers, media activists and womens activists to convene, address the myriad of issues impacting women, girls and our global communities, build skills, and strategize on getting their voices more fully heard in mainstream, independent, and alternative media. The opening session focused on Women Reporting on the Global Frontlines.

In the opening session of WAM 2009, Huda Ahmed from Baghdad, in Iraq, said she cherished talking about womens issues, talking to women, woman to woman and heart to heart. She stated that "I dont care where you came from, I care only that you are a woman, and you will understand, no matter what, no matter where you are from African, Europe, Middle East, China. We all went through similar circumstances in our different places."

"I only realized that after I left Iraq, I thought what happened in there could only happen there. I grew up through war, Iran/Iraq war. Sanctions for 12 years, thats still a deep wound in my heart. And then before 2003 there were air strikes from time to time. And then after 2003"

According to her, she sees her country from a different view point now, adding that "It is different inside a conflict zone than when you are outside, especially when you communicate with people from different nationalities"

As the only woman among eleven 11 men in the Washington Post Baghdad Bureau, she explained how she was restricted. "My bureau chief would say Huda, you cant go, were going to send a man. Id say why? Theyd say because you havent been to that area, were sending a man. And Id say, he hasnt been to that area either."

She stated that with more experience, she moved to McClatchy. "I asked them, are you going to treat me as a journalist? Or, as a woman or man?" she narrated. "I can cover anything I want, go anywhere I want, and write whatever I want", she stated. According to her, she thanked God that the Bureau Chief was a woman. McLCaltchy and Knight Ridder understood how important it was to have a woman as a bureau chief. They understood what mattered was having someone who could run the bureau, get the story done.

"So I went to different places throughout the country. Iraqi women really wanted change. Before the war, Iraqi women, it was so progressive. She could go and work anywhere she wants. Get any job she wants. She was very equal to the men. It was a secular society. Saddam Hussein, though I hated him, valued women because he knew they love their work just like they love their men. So whatever serves him, he would do. But after the war, women were shocked. Because we were progressive women who wanted more, had to fight for our rights", she ended.

Jenny Manrique Cortes from Columbia said women journalists working in Columbia, face two separate challenges to live in the society and to step back and examine it and write about it.

"In the provinces we deal with the most delicate matters including violence, which causes huge damage to society, not only bodily but to informationIt is daily work. There are daily deaths. Sometimes those corpses are your friends, your colleagues, your sources. The closer to your communities, the easier it is to be targeted" she revealed.

According to her, her last work in Columbia was embedded with communities who had to leave everything instantly. "I traveled to areas prone to violence. I interviewed people abused by power, women, children, men. Interviewed people without means to be heard. People who required protection and anonymity. They always know who committed the crime. They know who executed civilians", she iterated. She said their conflict is non ethnic and non religious, adding that it will last until the drug traffic scam stops being lucrative, and the U.S. is its biggest client.

"I never carried weapons but many times surrounded by them. I was not allowed to leave the newsroom without a bulletproof jacket. Men dont understand why women are in this job", she went on.

Peta Thornycroft from Zimbabwe said she has never worked outside of Africa. "I have hardly traveled outside of Africa. I only work in a small portion of Africa, Southern Africa. I started to run away from the Zimbabwe story. Then I started to report in the Democratic Republic of Congo that saw life returning after so many years", she affirmed.

"Your world of womens rights and the womens movement, etc, the women in Zimbabwe are looking for calories for their children. Theyre looking for survival, for hard currency to buy a loaf of bread if there is any," she iterated.

"Six hours away, South Africa is a democracy. Six years of my life, I lived in a democracy. Last year in the elections of 2008, there was very little violence. Until I got a letter from a very brave person spelling out how Mugabe and the generals were going to punish the people for voting against them. There was nothing we journalists could do to help them. We have so few resources. I dont have a journalism license so I am an illegal. And all we could do was write about it. Its an orderly society, there are no guns,

no maternity units, no banks, children havent been to school for a year, but it was an orderly society. But they dont kill much so they know we write about it, and Mugabe doesnt like those headlines. So theyd beat people on their backsides, although there were no killings. People who will never be able to sit down again in their entire lifetimes because they have been beaten to a pulp", she disclosed, adding "But the killings did begin. The United Nations finally got on its backside and did something about the health sector".

"We practiced "sunshine journalism" in Africa after apartheid ended. Im afraid to say we failed as journalists, to tell the story. We failed now again, because were delighted to see Mugabes power diminishing, but Im afraid were going to do sunshine journalism again," she ended.

© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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