Since 2012, the team at the Syrian Female Journalists’ Network (SFJN) has been working tirelessly to promote a better understanding of the role of Syrian women in the uprising and break the stereotypes surrounding female journalists in the region.
Their inspiration came from a similar network of female journalists in Munich, Germany. When Milia Eidmouni and Rula Asad co-founded the project, they were hoping to train Syrian female journalists in the basics of journalism and help them better document the conflict.
“Dozens of alternative media outlets emerged when the uprising began in Syria,” said Eidmouni, the network’s co-founder and regional director. “We found it necessary to establish a network that would work with female journalists on the ground and help them overcome social barriers imposed by a male-dominated industry.”
Soon enough, they realized that, to educate the public on issues of gender equality and perception of female journalists, they would have to broaden their network to include both men and women – trainees and editors – living inside and outside Syria.
“We then moved on to editors and directors in different media outlets because we realized that female journalists don’t have enough – or any – editorial authority when it comes to choosing the topics they wish to cover,” said Milia.
The training programs conducted by the network are divided into two sections. The first focuses mainly on teaching journalistic principles and techniques to beginners. The second track is a project entitled “Code of Conduct,” which aims to break down the stereotypes surrounding Syrian women in general and journalists in particular.
Today, there are 41 female journalists in a 73-member network. Every year, the SFJN runs major campaigns that coincide with three internationally recognized days. On International Women’s Day, the network ran a campaign about female detainees in Syria’s prisons, while on World Press Freedom Day the team highlighted the importance of legal protection for journalists working inside the country, as well as neighboring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. SFJP used International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to draw attention to the different types of violence used against women in times of conflict, and to raise awareness over rape being used as a weapon of war.
The list of the network’s successes is rich with stories of inspiring Syrian women who weren’t scared to report on key issues from the heart of the conflict.
Zaina Ibrahim, a journalist with a focus on refugee issues, is currently working as a presenter for Rozana Radio. She joined the network a year ago and has been involved in a number of volunteer programs.
“We are in dire need of a supportive environment that values the hard work done by female Syrian journalists,” she said.
The network has helped Ibrahim and others to better understand gender identity issues in their society. “Many new journalists are in need of such an organization, especially to help us understand various terms, such as gender identities and how females are portrayed in media. It also helped us understand the need to abolish all kinds of discriminatory policies against females and reach equality,” she said.
The training, along with the moral support provided by the network, gave Ibrahim the courage to carry out her first report as a journalist. “I was the first journalist to speak to the father of Alan Kurdi – the little boy whose body washed up on the shore in Bodrum and drew attention to the global refugee crisis,” she said.
When neighboring countries were lax on movement in and out of Syria, the network was able to hold training courses between 2012 and 2014 in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Today, all trainings are conducted in Gaziantep, Turkey.
The network is growing rapidly, with future plans for a collaboration with BBC Media Action – the network’s international development charity – and an upcoming project to extensively research the role of Syrian women as both citizens and journalists.
Top image: A Syrian refugee woman is seen between a line of tents in a refugee camp near Azaz, north of Aleppo province, on Sunday, Feb 17, 2013. (AP Photo / Manu Brabo)