PRB’s Women’s Edition program, funded by USAID, brings together senior-level editors, reporters, and producers from influential media organizations in developing countries to examine and report on women’s health and development.
This article profiles two Women’s Edition journalists: Shai Venkatraman from India and Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam from Pakistan, who participated from 2010 to 2012. Learning and working together, these women are forging professional relationships that cross national, political, and cultural bounds.
Venkatraman described her participation in Women’s Edition, “It was a huge eye opener…a strong motivation to continue to focus on issues relating to public health. In India, these issues get short shrift, especially in TV. The PRB training helped me to push for these stories and…find different ways to peg these issues rather than wait for that big, breaking news moment.”
As a freelance journalist, blogger, and documentary filmmaker, Venkatraman focuses attention on women’s topics in India, including child marriage, discrimination and violence against women, and empowerment. Before going out on her own, Venkatraman was features editor for NDTV 24×7 in Mumbai for 12 years, where she reported on law, health, education, and women’s rights. As features editor, she guided young reporters on how to treat these topics sensitively and responsibly.
Venkatraman comments that Women’s Edition taught her “…two very critical things—the usage of numbers and data while writing about these issues, and the connection between health, the environment, and gender rights.”
Venkatraman earned a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from Northeastern University in Boston. Before that, she worked on TV news magazine shows and anchored for Asia Business News. In 2012 she was awarded the Laadli Creative Excellence Award for Best Documentary from UNFPA and Population First for the report “Born in Conflict,” on the state of public health care in Kashmir and Gadchiroli.
She blogs at http://shaivenkatraman.blogspot.com/ and tweets @shaivenkat.
Here is a sample of her work:
“Women’s Edition affected me as a person first, and in turn as a journalist,” Zahidi shared. “Having gotten this immense opportunity to learn, my motivation for sticking to purposeful journalism got stronger. The exposure helped me push my boundaries and think outside the box.”
Zahidi works as features editor for The Express Tribune in Karachi and focuses on human rights, gender, and peace building. “Reporting on gender and human rights as well as reproductive health is something that requires keen observation and good journalistic skills, as well as sensitivity,” she noted. “Topics like family planning or AIDS are sensitive and simultaneously daunting, especially in conservative societies.” Zahidi appreciated the field trips with Women’s Edition for helping her develop an understanding of indigenous methods of raising awareness and advocacy, and bringing communities on board, rather than alienating them.
Before joining the Tribune, Zahidi was a freelance journalist and columnist who contributed regularly to a variety of publications on topics pertaining to social issues in Pakistan, including gender, health, education, and the environment. Most of her freelance work was published by the Dawn Group of newspapers, which includes some of the most widely read in the country, as well as The Daily News, Inter Press Service, Asian Media Forum, and Newsline.
She blogs at http://chaaidaani.wordpress.com/ and tweets @FarahnazZahidi.
To learn more, read some of her stories:
Despite the strains between their respective countries, Venkatraman and Zahidi are friends and colleagues because of their participation with Women’s Edition. They both attribute Women’s Edition with fostering their relationships with other journalists around the world working on the same issues. “The best part of the PRB program was meeting journalists from so many different countries and with such varied experience…It was during a trip to Senegal that I realized female genital mutilation was alive and kicking in Mumbai, a city I was based in!” said Venkatraman.
Venkatraman and Zahidi have formed links that go beyond the two years they spent on the program. Zahidi shared that the bonds among the Women’s Edition participants expanded to people she saw on sites visits, including “a woman in the village in Senegal or a woman who was a fistula survivor in Addis Ababa’s Hamlin Hospital. Those women have stayed with me…in me.” Zahidi was able to travel to Pakistan’s conflict zones and saw the same kinds of suffering. She noted that each field trip was a learning experience, and “we were slowly pushed and encouraged to make inroads with policymakers.”
Heidi Worley is a senior writer/editor at the Population Reference Bureau.