Meet the Pakistani women who say the burqa helps them be better journalists

1 / 7
Sabeha Sheikh (left) and Sameera Latif, the pioneers of Burqa Journalist in Pakistan, attends a seminar in Dera Ismail Khan, a town in northwestern part of the country. (AN photo)
2 / 7
Sameera Latif (left) and Sabeha Sheikh, the pioneers of Burqa Journalist in Pakistan, look into camera after shooting an event in Dera Ismail Khan, a town in northwestern part of the country. (AN photo)
3 / 7
Sabeha Sheikh (left) and Sameera Latif, the pioneers of Burqa Journalist in Pakistan, film an event in Dera Ismail Khan, a town in northwestern part of the country. (AN photo)
4 / 7
Sameera Latif, the pioneer of Burqa Journalist in Pakistan, films an event in Dera Ismail Khan, a town in northwestern part of the country. (AN photo)
5 / 7
Sabeha Sheikh (left) and Sameera Latif, the pioneers of Burqa Journalist in Pakistan, film an even in Dera Ismail Khan, a town in northwestern part of the country. (AN photo)
6 / 7
Sameera Latif, the pioneer in Burqa Journalist in Pakistan, tells her male colleague how to use camera in Dera Ismail Khan, a town in northwestern part of the country.
7 / 7
Sameera Latif, the pioneer of Burqa Journalist in Pakistan, shoots an event in Dera Ismail Khan, a town in northwestern part of the country. (AN photo)
Updated 07 March 2019

Meet the Pakistani women who say the burqa helps them be better journalists

  • Burka Journalists gives veiled women of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chance to pursue their dream job 
  • The group is slowly growing, but needs funding to expand

DERA ISMAIL KHAN: Sabeha Sheikh was not thinking about her headscarf or burqa as she sat through a journalism workshop at Gomal University in the northwestern Pakistani town of Dera Ismail Khan in April last year. 

But a remark from the teacher, that girls in burqas could not be good journalists, led her to question how she could use her veil — considered by many in the West as a sign of oppression — to her advantage in the deeply conservative society to which she belonged. 

“It was at that moment I decided that not only will I be a good journalist, I will set up a platform for those girls who wear the burqa and also want to become professional journalists,” Sheikh, 24, told Arab News. 

In May 2018, she formed Burka Journalists with her friend and fellow journalism graduate Sameera Latif. The idea was to provide women who wore conservative Muslim dress, from black chadors to bright silk scarves, a space where they could be both free to follow their religious and cultural norms, and their dreams of being journalists. 

Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, bordering Afghanistan, is a socially conservative region whose women have suffered repression for decades. Women of the area mostly leave their homes in full-length shrouds covering the face. Rights groups say hundreds of women and girls are killed in the province each year by family members angered at perceived damage to their “honor,” which involves anything from “fraternizing” with men to eloping.

Over the years, the Pakistani Taliban and allied Islamist militants, who regard female education as anti-Islamic, have destroyed hundreds of schools for young women. It was also in this region that in 2012 the Taliban shot and critically wounded Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai.

Now, Sheikh and Latif want to highlight the problems faced by the women of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — both from behind their cameras and their burqas, which they say give them the “confidence and sense of ease” to take up a male-dominated profession in a very tough region.

“We feel comfortable working in burqas — that’s why we decided to promote this trend in the media,” Latif, 22, said. “A lot of girls here wear burqas, but that should not stop them from coming forward and becoming reporters.”

On its Facebook page, the Burka Journalists group has covered issues as diverse as protests by women against power outages and sanitation problems to the case of a 16-year-old girl who was paraded, half-naked, through her village to redeem family honor. Though it only has around 5,000 followers, the page is gaining popularity.

“Burka Journalists is becoming a good source of news, especially on social problems,” Maryum Akbar, a university student, said. She added that the group was important for covering women’s issues because they found it easier to talk to other women, rather than male reporters.

But Wasim Akbar Sheikh, chairman of the department of journalism and mass communication at Gomal University, believes that unless government funding is forthcoming, endeavors such as this will not last. “The tragic thing is that these journalists have neither revenue nor any government support,” he said. 

Latif, too, said that in order to expand the project, attract more women, gain further training and be able to cover a wider range of stories, the group needed financial support. 

“Right now, we are spending money from our own pocket to provide this launchpad for newcomers. We invite all burqa-clad women to come to us for training and work, but we also need some government support.”


 


Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

Updated 14 November 2019

Somalia struggles after worst flooding in recent history

  • At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks
  • More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding
MOGADISHU, Somalia: Ahmed Sabrie woke up to find his house half-submerged in fast-rising flood waters.

Frightened and confused, he herded his sleepy family members onto the roof of their home in central Somalia as scores of thousands of people in the town, Beledweyne, scrambled for their lives. Clinging to an electric power pylon by the edge of their roof, the family watched as their possessions were washed away.

“I could hear people, perhaps my neighbors, screaming for help but I could only fight for the survival of my family,” the 38-year-old Sabrie, the father of four, recalled.

As one of his children, unfed, wailed the family waited for more than 10 hours before a passing rescue boat spotted them.

Authorities have not yet said how many people died in the Somalia flooding last month, the country’s worst in recent history and the latest reminder that the Horn of Africa nation must prepare for the extremes expected to come with a changing climate.

At least 10 people went missing when their boat capsized after the Shabelle river burst its banks. Local officials have said at least 22 people in all are presumed dead and that toll could rise.

“This is a catastrophic situation,” Mayor Safiyo Sheikh Ali said. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who visited the town and waded through submerged areas, called the devastation “beyond our capacity” and pleaded for more help from aid groups.

With no proper emergency response plan for natural disasters, local rescuers used rickety wooden dhows to reach trapped people while helicopters provided by the United Nations plucked people from rooftops. African Union and Somali forces have joined the rescue operations and the Somali government airlifted food.

“Many people are still trapped in their submerged houses and we have no capacity and enough equipment to cover all areas,” said Abdirashakur Ahmed, a local official helping to coordinate rescue operations. Hundreds are thought to still be stuck.

With more heavy rains and flash flooding expected, officials warned thousands of displaced people against returning too quickly to their homes.

More than 250,000 people across Somalia were displaced by the recent severe flooding, according to the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Beledweyne town was the worst affected. Several thousand people were sheltering under trees or in tents.

“Floods have destroyed more than three-quarters of Beledweyne and submerged many surrounding villages,” said Victor Moses, the NRC’s country director.

Aid groups said farms, infrastructure and roads in some areas were destroyed. The destruction of farmland near rivers is expected to contribute to a hunger crisis.

The possibility of further damage from heavy rains in the coming days remains a concern, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Parts of the Lower Juba, Gedo and Bay regions, where IOM has supported displaced populations for years, have been affected. Many displaced people were stranded without food, latrines or shelter.

“In Baidoa, people have moved to high ground where they are in immediate need of support,” said Nasir Arush, the minister for humanitarian and disaster management for South West State.

Survivors like Sabrie now must struggle to rebuild their lives.

“We’re alive, which I am thankful to Allah for, but this flood disaster wreaked havoc on both our livelihoods and households so I see a tough road ahead of us,” he said from a makeshift shelter built on higher ground outside town.