For the past 30 years, the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) has honored exceptional women in journalism, highlighting the courage of female journalists around the world as well as the groundbreaking journalists who have dedicated their careers to paving the way for female journalists of the future.
This week, IWMF announced the 2020 recipients of the 30th annual Courage in Journalism Awards, granted to female journalists who go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to reporting the truth. These women face down harassment, violence, government oppression, and more in their pursuit of journalistic integrity.
“Right now, the pursuit of truth, and the need for diverse journalism, is at a critical high,” says Elisa Lees Muñoz, Executive Director of IWMF. “This year’s Courage in Journalism Award winners remind us that those who tell the world’s most vital stories, whatever the risk may be, are our true heroes. We congratulate Jessikka, Solafa, Yakeen and Gulchehra for your spectacular work and uncommon bravery.”
These women represent some of the most inspiring work in modern journalism. Their courage in the face of sexual harassment, government threats, attacks, and even imprisonment show the mounting strength of female journalists around the world.
Writing for an American publication, I have the privilege of speaking my mind in a way that many women around the world cannot share. Press freedom is constantly oppressed, as a growing mistrust of the media and cries of “fake news” make it harder to have our voices heard.
For female journalists on the front lines of some of the world’s most tumultuous events, threats to press freedom are even more present: sexual harassment, physical attacks, unequal pay, and oppressive governments all play a role in silencing women with stories to tell. According to the IWMF, the number of female journalists killed because of their work tripled from 2016 to 2017.
The IWMF recognizes women who go above and beyond in the pursuit of the truth (through the Courage in Journalism Awards), as well as the pioneers who make it possible for women to share their stories (through the Lifetime Achievement Awards). In the past 30 years, IWMF has honored more than 100 groundbreaking journalists across 56 countries.
This year’s Courage in Journalism Award recipients report from the front lines.
Jessikka Aro, working with the Finnish publication Yle, conducts on-the-ground investigations into Russian information warfare, reporting on the goings-on inside “troll factories” that spew out constant sexual harassment and attacks of character.
Yakeen Bido reports from Syria–specifically in Idleb, one of the most dangerous places for a female journalist to broadcast. According to IWMF, she is the first woman to appear on-camera from the city to report on the impact the fighting in Syria has had on vulnerable populations.
Gulchehra Hoja focuses her work on Uighur detention camps in China, reporting directly from the Xinjiang region of China. Described as a journalist who has “lost everything except for her life,” Hoja and her family face constant surveillance, harassment, and detentions at the hands of the Chinese government.
“I am extremely honored to receive the Courage in Journalism Award,” says Hoja. “I hope this recognition will encourage fellow journalists and many others to stand up for justice and truth.”
2020’s final award winner is unable to comment on her nomination. Solafa Magdy is an Egyptian journalist reporting on stories about human rights and social unrest. In November 2019, she was arrested in Cairo and continues to be held in prison under “deteriorating conditions.” She has not been directly heard from since the time of her arrest.
“The Courage in Journalism Awards show people that female journalists are not going to step aside, cannot be silenced, and deserve to be recognized for their strength in the face of adversity,” writes IWMF in the award announcement. “It honors the brave journalists who report on taboo topics, work in environments hostile to women, and share difficult truths.”
Indeed, the women receiving this year’s award represent journalistic integrity, strength, and all-around bravery that we in positions of privilege should seek to emulate at all times. Stories like Solafa Magdy’s speak to the fortune writers like myself and my colleagues have today, and because we are able to elevate our voices, we should use them to tell the stories of those who cannot.
“This award is a symbol of courage not only for me, but for all women working in the press,” says Bido. “It is an honor to have my name among the other winners – women who sacrifice their personal freedom in order to face social injustice.”
About Jessikka Aro: Jessikka Aro’s focus as a journalist – Russian information warfare – is a self-proclaimed, “life’s calling.” In 2014, Jessikka launched a project on Kremlin-related trolls, their impact on Finland and freedom of speech. Since then, Jessikka’s reporting with the Finnish Broadcasting Company has received numerous awards and taken her to troll factories in St. Petersburg. However, the past six years have also brought crude attacks from pro-Russia activists. Even though she was forced to flee her home for two years in 2016, the sexual harassment and death threats do not dissuade Jessikka. Her book, “Putinin Trollit,” was published last September, and in 2019 she received the International Women of Courage Award, which was rescinded by the U.S. Department of State, reportedly because of Aro’s criticism of the Trump administration on social media.
About Solafa Magdy: Solafa Magdy is a multimedia reporter based in Cairo. Her reports have covered political transition and social unrest in Egypt, minority rights, women’s rights, education, human rights, refugees and sexual harassment in Egyptian society. Her work has appeared in Alroeya (UAE), TRT World, Mada Masr and BBC Egypt. An expert in mobile journalism, she is the founder of Everyday Footage, a school that trains young women journalists and researchers in mobile reporting. Solafa has been imprisoned in excruciating conditions since November 2019, when she was abducted and detained following a raid of independent news outlets in Cairo. She has been jailed in pre-trail detention without access to a fair trial, exceeding what is lawfully prescribed in Egyptian law.
About Yakeen Bido: Yakeen Bido spent her early years in Idleb moving between her hometown and latakia during the onset of Syrian war in 2011. Following her studies in sociology, Yakeen returned to Idleb, and for five years she’s reported on political, military and humanitarian issues enduring violent interrogations, smear campaigns and multiple arrests. Syria ranks 174 out of 180 countries in the RSF 2020 Global Press Freedom Index, but Bido continues to report on-camera – she is the first woman to broadcast from the region. Risking her life from the frontlines, Yakeen faces death threats from Assad regime-supporters due to her identification as a woman and role as a journalist.
About Gulchehra Hoja: When Gulchehra Hoja began reporting for Xinjiang TV, pressure to promote the Communist Party led her to Radio Free Asia (RFA), which offered the only autonomous Uighur-language news outside of China. After joining RFA in the U.S., Gulchehra was sent a “red notice” from China, banning her from returning home. Today, two dozen of her family members – among an estimated 800,000 to 2 million Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups in detainment – face “cultural genocide,” according to Gulchehra. Categorized as “re-education” facilities, these detention camps in Xinjiang also include crematoriums. Following Gulchehra’s risky interviews with escapees, prison guards and other officials, she testified in front of the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Foreign Affairs on the dangers of reporting on human rights.
About the International Women’s Media Foundation: The IWMF works to unleash the power of female journalists to transform the global news media. The Foundation’s fellows and grantees — both freelance and staff journalists — become experts in reporting in underserved regions, generate must-read stories, align with top outlets, and bring critical issues affecting women and others to light. IWMF is the only organization that provides safety training, byline opportunities, and emergency support tailored to female journalists and photographers around the world. IWMF writes, “We also recognize badass female journalists and photographers whose courage sets them apart. And we research the factors that allow journalism to remain dominated by men — while advocating for inclusive practices that help propel women and minorities into leadership. The IWMF believes that gender does not conform to one notion. We are inclusive of all journalists who identify as women, which includes trans women, and non-binary people.”
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