Lesley Ferris (an artist and scholar) and Amie Ferris-Rotman (a journalist) are a creative mother-daughter team. They have recently released a theatre production championing the stories of Afghan women. The stage production called Sahar Speaks: Voices of Women from Afghanistan – kicked off in London last weekend.
Amie is no stranger to this topic – she worked as a journalist for Reuters in Kabul for two years starting in 2011. The job was obviously not without its challenges; it was, after all, the height of the war. Amongst the harrowing tales about families ripped apart by the murderous acts of al-Qaeda and the attempts to dismantle them, she noticed another problem in the city: a complete lack of female journalists.
Yep, you heard that right: Not one female journalist was working at any international or domestic news outlets in the city. “When Amie was based in Kabul there was an all-women rock concert, which she wanted to cover,” Lesley told Huck Magazine last week. “But only women could attend.” She asked Reuters if she could have a female photographer or camerawoman. They said, ‘No, you have to use our men.’ So, although she wrote the story, it didn’t have any visuals.
“When I got to the concert I noticed I wasn’t the only one – BBC, AP and AFP, none of them had female camerawomen,” Amie says. “As a result, the story was basically muted, and the great irony was that it was as if that story and event hadn’t taken place at all.”
After receiving a fellowship from Stanford University in the US, Amie created a project – Sahar Speaks – that was designed to challenge what she described as the media industry’s failure to involve Afghan women’s voices. The aim of the programme was clear: “To equip Afghan female journalists with the skills, networking and publishing opportunities needed to give them a voice in international media.”
Since its inception, Sahar Speaks has achieved some great things; over 20 female Afghan journalists have been trained by the project and have gone on to get published by some of the biggest publishers in the business such as the The New York Times and The Huffington Post. These stories have now been turned into a theatre production.
“I read the first 12 stories that were published and I just thought they were all amazing,” says Lesley. “I thought it would be amazing to adapt a couple of those stories as live theatre – make those stories have a different audience, and a different method of telling. Embodying the stories, instead of reading them as text.”
So, Sahar Speaks: Voices of Women from Afghanistan, three half-hour plays based on the stories of Afghan women journalists, was born. Tickets for the shows in London sold out immediately, and when you think about the fact that this is a first, that’s unsurprising.
Click here for more information about the Sahar Speaks project.