Throughout more than 5 years Amie Ferris-Rotman and Lesley Ferris, her mother, work on freedom of expression. In 2015 daughter launched a project “Sahar Speaks”, which aimed at advancing opportunities for Afghan female journalists. In 2017, thank to Lesley Ferris, we are now able to see these stories staged in London. 

Sahar Speaks

Like other marginalized groups, Afghan women need our investment and our time

This quote wraps the accost of Amie Ferris-Rotman, a British-American journalist, on the George W. Bush Institute’s web-page. Starting 2015, with the support of IWMF (International Women’s Media Foundation), Amie launched the project “Sahar Speaks”. It is a three-part initiative, which targets to connect female journalists from Afghanistan with the biggest news networks, such as the Reuters, The Huffington Post or The Wall Street Journal.

It would be unfair to say, that there are no Afghan woman journalists at all. As Amie Ferris-Rotman says, “female reporters work for local radio, TV and news agencies, but their audience primarily stays within the region. There are currently no Afghan women reporting for the foreign news outlets in Kabul, which produce countless stories on women’s rights”. The most affluent foreign news outlets based in Afghanistan do not hire local female journalists, and that is not due to unwillingness of women themselves. According to Amie Ferris-Rotman “of 9,000 total Afghan journalists some 2,000 are women, and many of them do want to work for foreign news organizations like the New York Times, Reuters, or the Associated Press”.

During a year-long initiative a selected group of 10-15 local journalists is mentored by international reporters. That is preceded by a week of intensive workshops. Afghan newswomen are then paired with their female peers around the globe to receive an external outlook how to work with social media. Eventually, “Sahar Speaks” partners with foreign newsrooms in Afghanistan, so the women’s stories can be published internationally. And, ultimately, give them opportunities to work professionally without removing from their current employment.

Unlike other efforts to develop the freedom for female journalists in Afganistan, and for media in Afghanistan in general, “Sahar Speaks” might also serve as a model. “Divided into three progressive steps, the initiative can be replicated across other countries”, – says Amie Ferris-Rotman.

To this date, already more than 20 articles of Afghan female journalists have been published. One can find their writings in such media, as The Huffington Post and The New York Times. However, the project which proposes the mother of Amie Ferris-Rotman is brand new.

 

Voices of Woman from Afghanistan

The theatre project was aspired after reading the first 12 published stories: “I thought it would be amazing to adapt a couple of those stories as live theatre – make those stories have a different audience, and a different method of telling. Embodying the stories, instead of reading them as text”, – says Lesley Ferris, Arts and Humanities Professor of Theatre at The Ohio State University and the member of “Palindrome productions“.

The performance was put on stage by Theatre503, and according to Huckmagazine, the tickets were sold out in days. The event took place on 16th of October 2017.

The general play consists of half-hour stories: each of them is written by a British playwright and is based on one of the published articles of Afghan female journalists. After the play there was also a discussion with a panel of specialists on Afghanistan.

There are three stories shown in this play correspondingly to three articles published in media. All of them talk about troublesome parts of growing up as an Afghan woman. For example, the play called “Spengul’s Mum”, tells about a 7-year-old girl, who was forced to marry an adult male. Aisha Zia, the playwright, says that she built the script by interviewing young girls and observing her own experience, highlighting differences and similarities. In those contrasts, as the author says, she was able to get the inspiration: “I feel fortunate to have had a privileged upbringing as a second-generation migrant. I am a British citizen. It did make me think about how different my life could have been had I been brought up somewhere like Afghanistan, or Pakistan”.

Aisha Zia also adds, that the 30-minutes play is dedicated to the third or forth generation migrant children, who might not quite feel “what it’s like in other parts of the world, for children their age as they are so far removed from their cultural heritage”. That highlights the idea of connectivity and illustrates the skipped alternative life.

Another play talks about a girl dressing up as a boy in order to go to school. It is written by Yasmin Josep, and is inspired by the story “I Dressed Like a Boy So I Could Go to School” by Zahra Joya. The playwright works in this piece with issues related to gender and the representation of gender. In the interview the author says, that she is intrigued in the actor’s “physicality and movement”. The script also deals with such subjects, as the idea of gender as a construct and the autonomy of young woman in today’s world.

The theatre, as another format of medium, gives possibility to talk about tough topics in a playful manner. Sometimes It makes easier to understand and feel empathy to the others. Still, the message but not the form remains the most important both for mother and daughter. According to Lesley Ferris, the war, which took place for almost 17 years, must be spoken out, as well as other Afghan stories: “It’s rare in the West – or anywhere – to have Afghan stories, apart from The Kite Runner, which recently was on in the West End. Afghan stories are not on the stage”.

According to Amie Ferris-Rotman, the performances should raise the social awareness about Afghan woman: “The international community – have abandoned them. Huge promises have been made to these women. There was no follow-up, no investigation into what happened <…> I think journalists out there want to tell these stories, but there’s not much appetite from editors.”

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