War Correspondent Speaks About Female Journalists

Carlotta Gall is the veteran Kabul-based war correspondent with The New York Times who reports on both Afghanistan and western Pakistan.

I caught up with her last week while working on a piece for an upcoming article for Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists.

ET: What types of challenges have you faced as a reporter in Afghanistan and Pakistan simply because you are a woman?

“Only twice I think when madrassas or certain mullahs refused to be interviewed by a woman or allow a woman to enter their premises. Once I wanted to join a colleague and interview a mullah from the TNSM in Malakand and I had to sit in the car outside while he took my tape recorder in. Another madrassah in Quetta [Pakistan] said women were not allowed inside so the local reporter went in and asked the question for me. The same problem existed during the Taliban regime in Afghanistan but I have not had that problem since 2001 since the current government is more relaxed.”

ET: Do women journalists get more access to people and parts of society because of their gender?

“Women can go into the female quarters of households. In conservative traditional areas men who are not relatives are not allowed in these areas. There are ways around this for men to interview or hear women’s views, but it is much easier as a woman. Often though language is a problem since the women often only speak local dialects, whereas the men are better educated and can speak Urdu or even English.”

ET: You’ve covered conflict for years. What is different about the experience of covering what has been happening in Afghanistan?

“Conflict is conflict wherever you are. Kidnapping has become a serious threat, as it was in the Caucasus in the 1990s. The Al Qaeda element in the insurgency in Pakistan and Afghanistan has made it particularly dangerous for non-Muslim journalists, or anyone working for western news outlets.”

ET: If you could go back and do it again [your career], would you do anything differently?

“No.”

ET: Of all the stories out there, why cover Afghanistan and Pakistan?

“It’s a good story and a developing story. An important issue for the United States and the west, and the people or the region deserve better.”

ET: What insights about humanity have you gained from reporting in Afghanistan and Pakistan?

“Same as anywhere, civilians suffer the most in war.”

ET: Do women bring some kind of unique insight to covering conflict?

“No—compassion, stamina, whatever you need for journalism is sexless.”

ET: Where do you see the war in Afghanistan going in the next couple of years?

“On and on.”

In addition to being a contributing editor for The Epoch Times, Genevieve Long writes the Media and Foreign Policy blog for the Foreign Policy Association, where this piece was first published.

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