Noor Faraj works as a reporter in Iraq and is also involved with the theater. She believes in a better future for the women of her country and that data journalism can help get them there.
"In the interviews I did, I often couldn't counter the politicians' claims with anything substantial. That bothered me," said Noor Faraj, a 28-year-old radio journalist in Iraq. At some point, she got fed up and began focusing on data. "I wanted to educate people about grievances in the country and use facts to fight misinformation and other things that are going terribly wrong here," she said.
As part of the DW Akademie online project Code >Her<, Faraj wrote an article pointing out that Iraqi men have more access to the Internet than Iraqi women do. While 54 per cent of the men are connected to the Internet only 37 per cent of the women are. "This bars many women from getting an education," Faraj said.
Faraj took part in the 14-week Code >Her< course that offers women journalists workshops and individual coaching. "Code >Her< is not just about learning, it's also about building networks with other female journalists in the region," she said. "But more than anything," she stressed, "there's someone there who encourages you as a woman, who tells you that you’re good, that you can do it and to go for it!"
Growing up, Faraj experienced the importance of getting encouragement and support from outside. She grew up in Basra, a port city in southern Iraq where women are clearly subordinate to men. "Women there aren't supposed to want anything. You’re just there to obey men," Faraj said. "If you’re a woman, it’s always your fault, no matter what. If a man hits you, it’s because you provoked him. If a man rapes you, it’s because you teased him" she said.
Even as a child, Faraj constantly came up against patriarchal barriers. However, there were women – teachers, neighbors – who stood up for her. When her family wasn’t sure if they should send her to school, a neighbor approached her parents. "She couldn’t read or write," Faraj explained, "but she paid for my school uniform and convinced them to let me go to school." Faraj said she remains grateful to the women who supported her.
Noor Faraj from Iraq: As a child, she dreamed of performing on stage. Today she's a stage director and data journalist
As a teenager, Faraj dreamed of living in a different world, of being a theater director and escaping from the reality of the conservative society where she lived and from the war engulfing Iraq. She decided to turn her fantasies into reality and after graduating from school studied theater at the University of Basrah. Her family, however, refused to let her perform on stage and so she began to write plays instead. "I want to use art to take people to a different reality, to where there’s some love and lightness," she explained. In her plays, women also appear on the stage – an affront in Basra, a city where religion and mosques play the leading role and where women have as few public roles as possible.
Faraj knows that Basra used to be a very different city. Back in the 1960s and 1970s it had bars and clubs, 50 cinemas, a concert hall and 12 theaters where artists appeared. Now, only old postcards show Basra as the lively cultural city it once was – green and tidy and with beautiful Venetian-like canals. Now it's just a place of garbage, ruins and more garbage. War, corruption and fundamentalism have turned Basra into the city it now is.
Faraj hopes that Basra will one day be like it was, a city she has never know. She became weary of Basra, of the ongoing struggles, and two months ago moved to Baghdad. She said it was liberating and she feels freer than she did in Basra. More data journalism projects are also waiting for her, she added.
She and a Tunisian participant from Code >Her< successfully applied for the fourth edition of "Visualize 2030", a data camp and idea competition run by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). "There are so many topics that we need to dig up data on," Faraj said. She also has plans for the theater. When the pandemic is over, she plans to put on a play in Basra, she said, and of course with both women and men appearing on the stage.
Women in the Arab world are often overshadowed by their male colleagues and career opportunities are rare. But in times of digital change, coding skills and data journalism qualifications are offering women new chances. With this in mind, DW Akademie launched the Arabic-language project Code >Her< last year aimed at women in the Middle East and North Africa. Twelve journalists from Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Yemen and Irak took part in the course and for 14 weeks participated in intensive online workshops on data journalism. They also received individual coaching. The training focused on data research, data preparation and visual presentation but also looked at data security, data ethics and the use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence. The second round gets underway this year with 14 new participants.
DW Akademie's project Code >Her< is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.