Daisy Sindelar is a senior correspondent in RFE/RL's Central Newsroom. Before joining RFE/RL, she spent the 1990s in Russia, working for "The Moscow Times" and its sister paper in St. Petersburg. She likes to report at ground level, explaining events through the prism of ordinary people, particularly women, children, and minorities. Based in Prague, she has also reported from Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. We sat down with Sindelar to discuss her experience reporting on women’s issues from the front lines.
RFE/RL: Women’s issues have been one focus of your reporting, especially in conflict zones where often women and children are especially vulnerable. Was this your experience in southern Kyrgyzstan after the 2010 clashes?
I wanted to meet people on both sides of the ethnic divide, and I met Uzbek and Kyrgyz women who had both suffered as a result of the conflict. I met a Kyrgyz seamstress
who had spent most of her life building up a business, and in a single day it was all burned to the ground. There was no compensation, she was forced to move into a small apartment with her daughter. This was just one of many examples. Another was an Uzbek woman and her daughter
, left alone in a very hostile city after the patriarch of the family died of a heart attack and an older son was forced to emigrate to Russia to look for work. Life didn't seem like it was going to improve for any of these people.
The thing that moves me the most in situations like that, is that women are in a particularly difficult situation in conflicts because they’re responsible for their families and their children. That’s a burden that parents and especially mothers can understand particularly well. It’s particularly heartbreaking to see women who are left with no options, who are literally driven to desperation by the fear that they won't be able to care for their children.
WATCH: Daisy Sindelar interviews Miralim Mirusmanov, an ethnic Uzbek whose home was burned to the ground in the June 2010 clashes in Osh, Kyrgyzstan
RFE/RL: You also traveled to Sarajevo on the 20th anniversary of the outbreak of the Bosnian War. How has life changed for women there?
I interviewed two women there, both of whom I found fascinating for different reasons. One was a woman whose baby girl had been killed
by a sniper while in its stroller. You know, that’s an unfortunate aspect of journalism -- that you’re a bit of an ambulance chaser. You don’t want to interview the person to whom something terrible almost happened, you want the person to whom something terrible did happen. I was a bit uncomfortable about meeting her, but when I did, she had this irrepressible cheerfulness. Even as she was telling us this very horrible, sad story. Her faith that she would be reunited with her daughter at some point was so strong. She went on to have other children in an ethnically mixed family, and she says they celebrate all of the holidays. She was a very inspirational person to me.
I met another woman whose husband and son were off fighting and she was left to take care of her little girl alone during the war. They lived in a part of the city that was very dangerous. She had to go out during the day and walk through the trenches they had made and try to find food
for her daughter. The lack of supplies drove all of the women in the neighborhood to make a special cookbook with recipes based on what happened to be available -- dishes you could make with three ingredients that you could get from the UN. This woman still had the book, though when I interviewed her she said she hadn’t looked at it since the war. She said it brought back pleasant memories, ironically. Not of eating tomato paste off a vanilla wafer, or whatever it was they had to eat, but of the community of women helping each other. She said whenever one of the women got ahold of a rare ingredient like sugar, they would share it with everyone else. That changed after the war, and she missed it -- not the war, but the camaraderie.
RFE/RL: All of these stories convey a sense of resiliency among women in conflict zones. Did you find that to be the case, generally?
My impression as an American woman who lived for several years in Russia and has traveled a lot in this part of the world is that women in these places don’t get much of a break and they are extremely tough. All the time, in all situations. I think women are just forced to be very resilient. They're made of special material, and this is brought to bear when they’re put in difficult situations.
I think of myself as a very lucky person -- I had a safe, comfortable upbringing and have been free to make all of my own choices in life. When I meet women who haven't had those advantages and have lived through circumstances that would bring the rest of us to our knees, it reminds me how lucky I am -- and what a privilege it is to know them.
RFE/RL: What are the most under-reported or difficult-to-report women’s issues in RFE/RL’s broadcast regions?
Domestic violence continues in our region in unbelievable numbers and most countries have very few or no protections for women. It’s ubiquitous to the degree that nobody finds it surprising, and it’s been reported on so much that readers are almost fatigued by it. So how do you keep attention on the issue? I don’t know the answer. I just hope that I can find an individual whose story will touch readers. I would fold rape into that to a degree, in terms of women having very few options for legal recourse. Human trafficking is a huge issue. Women travel abroad to find work because they need to support their families. When it comes to trafficking and the danger of migration, women and children really do have the worst of it. These are all critical issues and a lot of work remains to be done.
RFE/RL: Another focus of your reporting has been LGBT issues, particularly in an article about a member of this community in Moldova. Do you think LGBT issues are finally being accepted as a human rights issue in the media, in the U.S. and elsewhere?
It’s an interesting question because if you write in English for RFE/RL, you’re kind of in this weird netherworld because you’re not quite part of U.S. media, but I also don’t think that article could have been written the way it was for a Moldovan readership. I sort of like operating in that space. I think for RFE/RL, LGBT issues fall clearly into a human rights category. And for people who say that to cover an issue is to promote it... well, part of the problem with human rights reporting is that you’re always going to appear to be advocating one thing or another. It’s just inevitable. I think human rights reporting does cross over into advocacy to some degree, and that’s not a bad thing. As a journalist, you strive for balance, but not necessarily neutrality. You have to feel strongly about the things you’re writing about or you’ll turn out some pretty limp copy.