Former Program Director
News reporting in the past year by PRB’s Women’s Edition participants has been instrumental in exposing violence against women to authorities in Kenya and Pakistan and forging a path to justice for women who were raped.
PRB’s Women’s Edition aims to improve print and broadcast coverage of stories that are important to women in developing countries—health, development, population, environment—by training female reporters and editors to look at these topics in depth. Women’s Edition, begun in 1994, is funded through USAID’s Informing DEcisionmakers to Act (IDEA).
Kenyan Girl Devastated When Rape Suspects Set Free
One year after a 16-year-old girl was gang raped, only one of six suspects was put on trial this summer in Busia, in western Kenya. The girl, known as “Liz,” suffered a broken back and serious internal injuries, including a double fistula.
Last October, three months after the rape, Njeri Rugene, a reporter for the Daily Nation and member of PRB’s Women’s Edition, published the story of how Liz was attacked by six boys, three of whom she knew by name, and thrown into a pit latrine while walking home alone from her grandfather’s funeral. When the story broke that three of the boys had been arrested and told to mow the grass in the police compound as punishment, then set free, it sparked a storm of protest from Kenyans.
Amid intimidation and threats from the boys and their families, Liz and her family endured months of trauma before the justice system began to respond. With her injuries, Liz was unable to walk or even stand and was taken to a fistula hospital where medical bills for the surgical repair of her spine were huge, a surgery that was necessary before corrective surgery for her fistula. The frustrated doctors contacted Rugene because she had done an earlier story on their fistula work at the hospital. When the Daily Nation called Florence Mutua, a Busia County member of Parliament, she quickly got involved and police began investigating.
Rugene continued to report on the story and readers sent money to help pay the medical costs. The Nation Media Group, which publishes the Daily Nation, kept the story alive until the perpetrators were arrested and prosecuted. The media house offered to defray the medical costs by starting a campaign called “Stand Up For Liz, Help Her Walk Again.” More officials got involved, including Anne Waiguru, cabinet secretary for Devolution and Planning, and the case reached the National Assembly’s Committee on National Security. The protests drew support from individuals and women’s groups across Africa and globally, and more than 1 million people signed a petition calling for the arrest and prosecution of the suspects and disciplinary action against the police who originally mishandled the case.
Rapes in Pakistan Were Retaliation for Family Dishonor
Around the same time, another PRB Women’s Edition participant, Farahnaz Zahidi, a senior subeditor at The Express Tribune, told the story of a woman known as “M” who was gang raped in front of her husband and children in Tharparkar, a rural district in southeastern Pakistan. Behind the incident was a complicated set of events: Khano, the brother of M’s husband, had himself raped a woman, who was the wife of a man who had broken into Khano’s house and raped Khano’s wife. M’s rape had been retaliation against Khano, who had posted photos of the woman he had violated. In the end, three women were raped as revenge for the actions of the men in their lives.
M and her family sought police intervention and waged protests, but justice was slow and the perpetrators went into hiding. When Zahidi’s story broke on the front page, it got attention: Women’s groups and activists, including Amar Sindhu, who represented the Women’s Action Forum and was a member of the provincial Sindh Human Rights Commission, helped support the family through legal procedures. Zahidi continued to report on the story, and when she got the attention of the chief justice of Pakistan, the police promptly arrested the eight suspects. Because weapons were involved, the case went before the Pakistani anti-terrorism court, and within four months of the story breaking, each man was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Zahidi wrote a follow-up story about the importance of the media in bringing justice. She told PRB, “My local informants thanked me profusely, saying this is the first time in their area that a poor woman’s plea has been heard and justice awarded. The woman and her family are thanking ‘good media’ !”
Media Training Gives New Lens to Reporting
Women’s Edition participants come from different parts of the world and report from varying cultural perspectives. Through the two-year program, which offers international week-long seminars and study tours, they gain a new lens on reporting that helps them refine their professional role. Zahidi writes, “The ways in which some of us were able to make a difference are many…we ended up impacting our communities, armed with knowledge, experience, and encouragement we got from Women’s Edition.”
Study tours are a key component of the training. Women’s Edition journalists have visited:
- Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital in Ethiopia, where they met health care workers who provide free fistula repair surgery to about 2,500 women every year.
- Teachers at a girls’ madrasa in Jakarta, Indonesia, where they learned how sexual and reproductive health can be taught to girls in a religiously sensitive way.
- A Senegalese village, where local residents explained why they have abandoned female genital mutilation/cutting.
Women’s Edition magnifies the determination and expertise these reporters already possess—to cover current news and write stories that have impact. Their stories, and the issues they expose, are gaining recognition—Rugene’s story won a Kenya Media Network on Population and Development award—and are fueling positive change for women.