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27.11.2012 11:36

Women at war: why we make it our place to be on the front line

Maia Tsiklauri
Media Discusions

“You can be bombed while sleeping, kidnapped, sexually abused, beaten, jailed and shot. Such is the life of a journalist who reports on conflict,” – journalist of British Telegraph Alex Crowford wrote in her article – Women at war: why we make it our place to be on the front line. 

“Those working in conflict areas live strange, surreal lives under intense stress and often in immense danger. We convince ourselves that the job highlights injustice and brings about change. It can make people, governments, prime ministers and presidents sit up and react. And, ultimately, it can save lives,” Crowford wrote and stressed, - We are not heroes, though we do meet a lot of them. The people who choose this work all know it will involve sleep deprivation, rough, dirty conditions and limited access to washing or lavatory facilities. It will usually mean going without food and drink for long periods. It will mean being terrified at times, exhilarated at others.”  

It is said in the article that it means trying to stay calm when every sinew in your body is telling you to run or to scream. It means sometimes trusting strangers with your life while being deprived of those you love. It means letting people down far too often. And it can mean feeling that you’re failing at your other, more important, roles – in my case being a wife and mother of four children.

“But female reporters in war zones are hardly a novelty – think of Martha Gellhorn, Telegraph veteran Clare Hollingworth and, more recently, Lindsey Hilsum and the late Marie Colvin, who was killed last February while working in Syria,” – Crowford wrote and continued that women presence is a very positive one.  She gives several of her personal examples as an evidence of that: 

“When I was reporting from Asia, I found I was in a different category to most of the females I met. I wasn’t a man, but I wasn’t a local woman either. I was another, more exotic, creature altogether – a Western woman – and afforded a respect I often didn’t deserve and opportunities I readily accepted.

When I met militants in Afghanistan, having travelled there in a burka, the hooded gunman who greeted me said: “No woman has ever been here, not even our own women. We thank you for coming to talk to us.” 

When I visited Badakhshan in northern Afghanistan, I was able to go inside the women’s homes to talk to them about the abuse they’ve suffered – whereas a male reporter would never have been admitted into such an intensely private and traditional community.  In India, prostitutes driven on to the streets by poverty spoke to me about how they were encouraging their young daughters into the same trade because they had no option.” 

According to Crowford, often being female in gender-biased parts of the world opens doors, because the men you’re dealing with assume you must be of limited intelligence or at least not as smart as they are. 

“Equality is very much a Western luxury. The thought processes, the dealings, the attitude towards women in other parts of the world are very different to what we are used to – but I can use much of that to my advantage,” – Crowford wrote and continued - “In combat, however, overcoming bigotry can be a challenge. On seeing me in Idlib City last February, a Syrian rebel told me in front of my astonished crew: “This is not a place for a woman. It is not safe.” This, after my team and I had evaded Syrian troops on the way in, hiked for seven hours over mountains between Syria and Turkey despite reports of landmines, slept rough for three nights and sneaked our way in to their city past snipers. I can’t say I was very patient with him. It was time to find another rebel to show us what was going on.”  

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