12 RFE/RL Women Who Make Headlines
On March 8, International Women’s Day, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) commends 12 RFE/RL women for outstanding contributions to journalism. Their work has had significant impact within the communities they cover, and has won numerous awards. They have demonstrated courage, insight, resourcefulness, and the highest professional standards, working under some of the most difficult conditions anywhere.
Valeriya Yegoshyna is an award-winning member of the hard-hitting investigative Schemes team of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, who has exposed high-level misconduct and abuse of office among Ukraine’s most senior officials, oligarchs, and politicians. Her report about the privatization of a historic building that was then left to fall into disrepair prompted court action and won her the 2018 Vasyl Sergienko Award for the Best Investigation Online. Yegoshyna told RFE/RL’s Pressroom that “there is huge pressure against investigative journalists in Ukraine, including threats, intimidation, and obstruction of access to information.”
Barnohon Isakova, a journalist with RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, is the author of “Unbroken,” the first documentary series devoted to the stories of political prisoners under President Islam Karimov’s 26-year-long iron-fisted regime. The project’s interviews and historical videos, which have been viewed more than 2 million times on social networks, show the courage of the survivors, among them intellectuals, writers, journalists, and politicians who endured torture and as many as 24 years in prison in retaliation for their work. Isakova told RFE/RL’s Pressroom that the project’s goal was to ensure that people in Uzbekistan understand “that these heroes are among us.”
Award-winning journalist Sabina Fati is Managing Editor of RFE/RL's Romanian Service, which was relaunched in January 2019 after closing its doors in the country a decade ago. The service had already attracted upwards of 18,000 followers on social networks even before its website went live. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis welcomed the Romanian Service’s return as “good news,” and declared in a statement that “A free Romania cannot be imagined in a free Europe without …the free press.” Fati says the mission of the service is to be neutral, balanced, but not equal amid “a lack of human rights, rule of law, and freedom of speech.”
Freshta Jalalzai, an Afghan-American journalist working for RFE/RL’s Afghan Service, focuses in her reporting on the role and rights of women in Afghanistan. She told RFE/RL’s Pressroom that although it's not just women's rights that are in danger if they are left out of current peace talks with the U.S., recovery from 17 years of war cannot happen without them: “Afghan women are victims of wars they did not start, and it’s time all victims’ voices—men and women—were heard.”
Svetlana Prokopyeva is a contributor to RFE/RL's Russian Service and the recipient of RFE/RL’s 2019 Peter Vail Fellowship. She is under criminal investigation in Russia for purportedly “justifying terrorism” in remarks she made on a media platform last November portraying a feeling of “hopelessness” among Russia’s youth and criticizing authorities after a teenager detonated a suicide bomb outside the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Arkhangelsk. Reporters Without Borders has called the investigation “baseless”; the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) denounced authorities in the case for equating “reporting on a terrorist attack with justifying terrorism.”
Aliya Suranova is a popular blogger who produces and hosts RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service’s program “Sisterhood,” a platform for discussion about women’s issues and social taboos that are normally ignored or overlooked by media in the region. The program, which has been picked up by Kyrgyz national TV, was the first of its kind to provide a space for women of all ages and backgrounds to address women’s issues in the Kyrgyz language. The biggest challenge facing women in Kyrgyzstan, in Suranova’s view, is that patriarchal values are still deeply ingrained in Kyrgyz culture and limit women’s opportunities and choices.
Zhuldyz Tuleova is the Kazakh producer of “Not In Our Name,” a research and documentary project developed by RFE/RL to help communities in Central Asia understand and prevent the spread of violence and extremism. According to the project’s Executive Editor Noah Tucker, her interviews with families who had lost members to the militant group Islamic State in Syria “formed the backbone of discussion in the talk shows and were the key to the entire project.” The documentary won Best Television Project in the “religion” category in a 2018 competition organized by the Prosecutor's Office of Almaty City in partnership with the Investigative Journalism Foundation of Kazakhstan.
Alina Smutko, a photojournalist reporting for RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service and the Crimea.Realities website, has been documenting the lives of ordinary Crimeans since 2016. Her photo reportage focuses on the changes that have taken place in Crimea since it was annexed by Russia in 2014, as well as the natural landscape and deeply rooted traditions that remain steadfast. A central theme of her work is the struggles of Crimean Tatar families with a loved one who has disappeared. Many Crimean Tatars have been abducted since the annexation, others have been arrested on nebulous “terrorism” charges, and still more have migrated to mainland Ukraine as refugees. She says she is drawn to photojournalism because it allows her to get to the heart of a subject quickly “without twisting anything or adding anything extra.”
Asja Hafner found the strength to survive the three-year siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war of the 1990s by telling the stories of her fellow survivors as a magazine and radio journalist. Now Digital Media Manager for RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, she is working to end the legacy of prejudice, intolerance, and violence that still pervades her country more than two decades later. She edits the service’s social media counter-extremism project “Not In My Name,” which provides a platform for engagement and respectful discussion about why people become radicalized and driven to conflict.
Natia Zambakhidze, who joined RFE/RL as director of its Georgian Service in 2018, is known as the person who coined the phrase "Rose Revolution" in describing the wave of protests in 2003 that led to the toppling of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. As a journalist who found herself in the middle of one of the most dramatic events to shake the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Zambakhidze recalls the importance of the nonviolent transfer of power in negotiating Georgia’s relations with Europe.
Melani Bachina, senior writer and producer for RFE/RL’s Russian Service, is the author of “Death Of A Station: The Rise And Fall Of Free Media in Russia,” a documentary that traces the plight of independent media in Russia through the story of the government’s shutdown of TV-2 in Tomsk, Siberia. Bachina has said of the film that by sharing the fate of the station, it answers some of the questions that torment people about the profession of a journalist and the price of compromise within restrictive media environments. She told RFE/RL’s Pressroom that her story illustrates both the power of a free press and how it can be silenced, and “represents for many of us a difficult piece of history in the profession of journalism and its place in Russia.”
Sarvinoz Ruhulloh, a journalist with RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, uses her reporting to direct attention to the unfair societal burden Tajik women bear from birth. Her stories portray their struggles to get an education and a job they desire, and gain the independence to choose whom they marry, how to live, and even what to wear. “We publish women’s unique, deep, and sincere stories in their own voices, while most media in Tajikistan discuss these problems from the point of view of experts,” Ruhulloh told RFE/RL’s Pressroom. She was recently subject to threats after publishing a controversial report about a female Tajik artist who paints nude portraits of women.