Our Women on the Ground Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World

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About This Book

Title: Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World

Edited by: Zahra Hankir

Genre: Nonfiction, Essays, Feminism

Publisher: Penguin Books

Publication Date: October, 2019

Pages: 304, Paperback 



There are hard books to read, and then there is Our Women on the Ground: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World. 


The book is a collection of essays from nineteen Arab women journalists, showcasing their experiences and perspectives as Arab women journalists reporting from the Arab world in the Middle East and North Africa. Through a collection of essays, these remarkable women share their firsthand accounts, shedding light on the complexities, challenges, and triumphs they encounter while navigating the often tumultuous landscape of journalism in these regions. 


The book offers a diverse tapestry of narratives, offering insight into the diverse cultures, social dynamics, and political landscapes of the Arab world, all from the unique vantage point of women who are breaking barriers in journalism. The essays are nothing short of their resilience, courage, and commitment to uncovering the truth in the face of adversity.


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holding a copy of Our Women on the Ground


Why Our Women on the Ground Should be on Your Bookshelf

Growing up, I’d always dreamt of being a journalist. Maybe it was the flashy lifestyle I perceived news reporters on screen to have. Or the ability to travel and connect with people from various cultures. Perhaps it was the prospect of telling human stories, from the happy moments to the sad and tumultuous moments, like war. 


Now that I think about it, and having read these essays from women journalists who have experienced what it is reporting from conflict zones, I think I may have chosen a better career for myself in finance. Because I am just in awe of their courage and resilience. 


“When you face death on a daily basis, you don’t plan for tomorrow. Why would you, if it might not come? ~ Zaina Erhaim 


The stories alone were hard to read. I can hardly imagine being right in the middle of such events — worrying for yourself and loved ones and yet carrying on with breaking barriers and societal expectations to report on what’s happening. 


When I say it’s a hard book to read, I am just reinforcing what many other readers have pointed out. So prepare yourself.


Why is it such a hard book to read? 


Honestly, for me, it’s not just about the rollercoaster of emotions for what these women have been through. Enduring and building prolific careers in such a male-dominated field and in regions where women are not allowed or even praised for having careers and having such strong personalities. For what they have witnessed covering war zone areas. For the losses they have endured, not just their family and friends but also their informants who are just a part of their loved ones as well. And worst of all, that I had to read these stories — tales of war, unfathomable experiences, and losses spanning years back in regions like Gaza — in 2023 when the Israel-Palestine war is still ravaging innocent lives. 


It’s not just stories from Palestine. These essays span from the upheavals in Egypt during the Arab Spring to the war-torn landscapes of Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and Iraq. 

Our Women on the Ground Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World book on a table with a cup of tea and pan cakesOur Women on the Ground Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World book on a table with a cup of tea and pan cakes

Besides war stories, we also get to learn about personal encounters of these journalists, ranging from sexual harrasment to being sidelined in the work place for simply being women. We also get glimpses of what life is like for women in some of these regions. 


For instance, in An Orange Bra in Riyadh, Donna Abu-Nasr talks about indignities women in Saudi Arabia had to endure to even buy undergarments. As late as 2011, Saudi women, who still had to cover up, were not allowed to work in stores. And that meant they would have to buy their undergarments from sales men, who had no ounce of decorum in shouting out their sizes, demonstrating all sorts of ways an undergarment might or might not fit them and giving them a once-over that just sounds and looks creepy. 


While there are difficulties in being a sahafiyat — female journalists — it afforded these journalists opportunities to access and report on stories their male counterparts could not otherwise tell. Like segregated women’s communities, following women going about their duties in their homes and encounters at the gynecological clinic. 


But it’s not all gloom. And one essay points that out quite clearly. When war is ongoing, people still have to get on with their lives and make do with whatever they have. Amira Al-Sharif’s essay, Yemeni Women with Fighting Spirits, captures this so well. Because, as a female journalist, she doesn’t have easy access to war areas for reporting, Amira has taken another route as a photojournalist. To capture the other side that we are rarely shown. 


“Western photographers tend to be drawn to the carnage, but I have continued to seek out the other part of Yemen that is full of life, love, and hope.” ~ Amira Al-Sharif


In her essay, she shares some of these happy and hopeful stories. Like the mother throwing a party to celebrate the health of her third-born, as is the norm to celebrate the good health of a newborn. 


Ultimately, Our Women on the Ground transcends the realm of journalism, offering valuable lessons in resilience, determination, and the unyielding pursuit of truth. It highlights the indispensable role of these women in shaping the narratives of their countries and challenging stereotypes while inspiring future generations of journalists. Because if I were to go back in time and choose a career path, I’d gladly go with journalism. 


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My ★ Rating 5/5

Goodreads ★ Rating 4.49 (as of November 2023)

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