Telling Women’s Stories Abroad
By Talia Buford
Journalists looking to tell stories in other countries must work to be respectful of the people they plan to focus on, panelists at the international reporting session told JAWS campers.
“When you’re finding untold stories, it’s important to work within the culture and society you’re broadcasting,” said Sahar Sarshar, Voice of America videographer.
The panel, which focused on how women’s issues are covered in America, the process for pitching international women’s stories and how to tell those stories, also featured documentary photographer and author Paola Gianturco and Washington Post photographer Lois Raimondo.
Raimondo talked about telling the story of women who had escaped honor killings. She wanted to give a complete picture of the issue, and when she went to Pakistan, she found it.
“I wanted to get at what’s behind it, what’s in front of it and what’s surrounding it,” she said. She photographed a woman whose husband had disfigured her for not giving him a divorce. The attack left her blind and without a nose. Raimondo followed the woman as her husband was put on trial. In the image she made of him as police brought him to the courthouse, his grin is haunting. “He said, ‘She offended my honor, so I’m proud of what I did,’” Raimondo recounts. The story ran on the front page of The Washington Post in 2000.
The biggest barrier for American journalists seeking to tell international stories is often the language, said Raimondo, so it’s important to find a trustworthy interpreter. “It’s critical you find someone who’s on your side” and has “humility and people’s respect,” said Raimondo. “If you don’t have that, you’re not going to be able to speak one word to people.”
One way reporters can find language tutors is to go to an English class at the local university and look for the stars of the class. College students, said Raimondo, are often willing to serve as interpreters, and can also educate reporters about local customs. Telling the stories of women in other countries can be empowering, said Gianturco, whose most recent book is Women Who Light the Dark. A veteran photojournalist, she has documented women’s lives and triumphs in 40 countries, including HIV and child rape activists in Zimbabwe, domestic violence survivors in Vietnam and abandoned children in India.
Gianturco said she forms partnerships with the women she documents.“I tell them the books will be as interesting as they can make them,” she said. “I ask them for their most interesting stories.” And she gets them. In return, she sends drafts of the books back to the women to proof, and when the books are finished, she sends them copies.
“Research and knowledge are key,” she said. “You have to work with what the audience already knows and then introduce them to something new as well. You have to let the women know that you understand their everyday life and then try to inspire them.”
Talia Buford is a reporter at The Providence Journal.