New Collection Highlights Arab, Female Reporters
“The [Arab woman reporter] is twice burdened…. in her homeland, she is among some of the most mistreated women in the world when it comes to her basic rights…and she is among some of the most repressed reporters in the world,” writes Zahra Hankir in the introduction to Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting From the Arab World, a collection of 19 articles published in August. The anthology, which ranges from Morocco to Gaza to Yemen, and covers a nearly two-decade span of political and social history, was Hankir’s attempt to elevate the voices of the sahafiyat (Arabic for “women journalists”), whom she sees as vital, but often overlooked, members of the region’s political and media landscapes.
Even before she began the work of compiling the book, Hankir knew she had set herself a near-impossible task. Aiming to appeal to both specialists and general audiences alike, the book’s premise would rely on several imperfect frameworks. The “Arab world,” strictly speaking, does not exist, while any attempt to represent “Arab women”—a population of roughly 200 million—would necessarily fall short. Journalism in the region, too, is difficult to characterize, with the “Middle East” as a whole consistently ranked as one of the most difficult, and dangerous, places to report.
Even so, Hankir, an Arab woman and working journalist herself, felt compelled to try. Throughout the process, she navigated the minefield of colonialist tropes and reductive stereotypes that frequently characterize mainstream coverage of the region, such as the view of the Middle East as a place of interminable conflict, or the Arab woman as perpetually oppressed. She also made the tough choice of limiting herself to contributions by women who identify as “Arab”—thus excluding many sizable minorities, such as Kurds, Berbers, or Armenians. She signals this choice clearly on the first page of her introduction, citing the story of a young Kurdish Syrian woman, and adding, “While this book centers on women of Arab ancestry…we by no means aim to present the twenty-two countries that comprise the Arab world as monolithic.
I spoke to Zahra Hankir in mid-August, as she ended a whirlwind two-week tour of the United States with the book. As two female journalists of Arab descent, we had much to discuss, and our conversation ranged widely. [Read Complete Q&A At The Nation]