Heated rhetoric aside, are journalists out of touch with the risks female reporters face in conflict zones? Ruane Remy asked this question in the Winter 2012 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism, and examined the unique situations that female foreign correspondents can find themselves in and how they can be better equipped to deal with them.

Heated rhetoric aside, are journalists out of touch with the risks female reporters face in conflict zones? Ruane Remy asked this question in the Winter 2012 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism, and examined the unique situations that female foreign correspondents can find themselves in and how they can be better equipped to deal with them.

 

Lara Logan was not the first female foreign correspondent to be sexually attacked. Yet, what happened to this seasoned reporter in early 2011 made the journalism community painfully aware of risks to female reporters. 

There are benefits to being a woman in this line of work. In countries where there is gender segregation, female reporters can talk to half of the population that is often off-limits to their male counterparts. And being a woman does not stop these journalists from interviewing men. On talking to global terrorists, the Toronto Star’s Michelle Shephard says, “They’ve met with me in spite of the fact that I’m a woman.” 

One of the last things these women want as journalists is their ability to tell others’ stories to be overshadowed by the dangers they face on the job. But the best way for that to be possible is for what one of my sources calls “a dirty secret in the industry” to no longer be a secret or too dirty to discuss. – R.R.

***

On Day 11 of the Egyptian uprising against the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak, Globe and Mail correspondent Sonia Verma and her colleague Patrick Martin were walking through what she describes as the “nouveau riche” neighbourhood of Mohandeseen. Verma was filming a pro-Mubarak crowd marching in the streets. At first this all-male crowd seemed friendly, some of its participants even smiling and waving flags for the camera. Suddenly, though, the scene turned menacing as some armed marchers charged Verma and Martin. As she recalls, “We were basically surrounded by this mob on all sides and they were becoming violent toward us.”

Fortunately, a security guard from a nearby apartment block emerged, firing gunshots into the air. The crowd froze. He grabbed the two journalists and hustled them into an apartment building. A woman living on the first floor took the three of them in. They stayed for several hours until the mob moved on. It was only after the security guard had escorted the two reporters back to their hotel that Verma realized she had deep bruises along her back and one arm.

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Today the incident is an afterthought. But that day in the apartment in Mohandeseen, Verma’s immediate concerns were escaping and the safety of the family who sheltered her, leaving her no time to think about her daughters: Annie, then three, and Sarah Jane, two.

It was thinking about her own two children—ages one and two—that may have kept Lara Logan alive on February 11, 2011, the day Mubarak resigned from office. As is widely known, the CBS News chief foreign correspondent was not as lucky as Verma when she ventured into the celebratory crowd in Cairo’s Tahrir Square with her bodyguard, producer, fixer, cameraman and two Egyptian drivers. As she noted later about the response to Mubarak stepping down, “It was like unleashing a champagne cork on Egypt.”

But the mood wasn’t purely triumphant. Logan’s fixer, Bahaa, could hear men shouting in Arabic to attack her.

In a 60 Minutes interview, Logan recounted how, after she was forcefully separated from her crew, men began to grab her everywhere. They stripped her of clothing, pulled at her hair, scalp and limbs, beat her with sticks and raped her with their hands. She believed she was going to die and had essentially given up. Then she thought, “I can’t believe I just let them kill me…that I just gave in, that I gave up on my children so easily.” She decided to survive for them by surrendering to the assault.

In response to the attack on Logan, the Toronto Sun’s Peter Worthington wrote an inflammatory column that posed the question, “Should women journalists with small children at home, be covering violent stories or putting themselves at risk?” His answer: “It’s a form of self-indulgence and abdication of a higher responsibility to family.” Logan’s decision to report from Egypt was, he said, “the right thing for her to do journalistically—unless, of course, she had small children, which was the case. Her son…should have taken precedent over her wishes to cover the world’s biggest story for the moment.” Worthington continued, “This holds true for any woman covering wars or revolutions.” 

You can read the rest on the Ryerson Review of Journalism website, where this piece was originally published