A new DW Akademie project brings together Sudanese women journalists and editors who are covering their country’s civil war. Their own safety and the safety of their colleagues on the front lines are paramount concerns.
At DW Akademie's Frauenblicke training, participants learned skills in crisis resilence and staying safe while covering war. The participants, all women, have fled their native Sudan but continue to cover the conflict and guide reporters on the front lines.
In the days and weeks after revolution swept across Sudan in late 2018, Amal Muhammad al-Hassan today recalls a glimpse of freedom.
President Omar al-Bashir had announced that imprisoned women who had been arrested for protesting against his government would be released. More protests followed, along with demands for better economic reforms. A coup later unfolded. And today, a civil war rages.
"But we had some freedom just after the revolution," she said. "We were optimistic, we could criticize the government and we had a free media. But by 2021, we were thrown back into this dark era. I knew then that it would be very bad, that I could not stay in Sudan. It's not safe."
Now in exile in Kenya, however, she has not given up hope, nor her commitment to a free media for Sudan. As the editing manager at Tahir Online, she guides and oversees reporters who are working on the Sudanese civil war's front lines. Along with typical editing duties, she is also tasked with keeping her reporters – and herself – both physically safe and digitally secure from government surveillance.
In October, al-Hassan joined a dozen other Sudanese women reporters and editors in Kenya for a DW Akademie workshop, the first of its kind for women media workers covering Sudan's conflict. For each who attended the Frauenblicke [or Women's Perspectives] training, the skills are increasingly vital to staying both alive and in the field in a civil war which this year has claimed hundreds of lives, including that of humanitarian aid workers in April.
Abeer Saady, a Frauenblicke trainer, and Rachael Nakitare of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IWART) congratulate a recent participant training in protecting oneself and others while covering Sudan's conflict.
"We already lost two women journalists," said al-Hassan.
And she got word recently that military intelligence has been tracking one of her reporters. She encourages him to protect himself and to change mobile phones regularly. She has also taught him how to save his digital communications.
"The fact is, you may be attacked simply because you are a journalist, or else, it may be that you are just randomly killed," she said. "There are too many stories like this in this war."
For freelancers, attempting to report in Sudan is especially difficult. Government officials tend to be particularly wary of independent journalists who may not have recognizable credentials. In 2019, Salma Al Nour Abdallah worked on a documentary project about Sudan's civil strife. She was inexperienced, she said, but together with other freelancers, managed to interview 100 war victims. Looking back during October's Frauenblicke workshop, she recognized how dangerous the work was, and has come to appreciate how she can keep herself and others safe while online.
"I do a lot of open-source reporting, I use my laptop all of the time and I'm still planning at some point to work in the field," she said. "I've learned about keeping a low profile and understanding when to step back from the work. And I learned that the fact is, you cannot save everyone."
DW Akademie's Frauenblicke program focuses on women journalists who cover conflict. At a recent training in crisis resilience, participants shared their personal experiences covering Sudan's ongoing civil war and how they continue to do so in exile.
The fifteen women taking part in the Frauenblicke workshop all fled Sudan for their own safety, but have remained committed to reporting on their homeland, or else supporting others who are doing so. They remarked that what is trying in their journalism work is the pressure from both sides of the conflict to take sides.
"But we are supporting peace," said al-Hassan. "There are people on social media trying to peg our reporting as supporting one side, and I'm worried about this, to be honest. But since this war started, we've had a plan to continue to support peace."
Likewise, Salma Alnour Abdalla Abusamra, another participant, said that alongside her journalism work, she works with a Sudanese human rights organization whereby she documents crimes against civilians, notably in the Darfur region. That, to her, signals that her interest is less in war, and more for lasting peace in Sudan.
"In the workshop, one of the most important things I learned is that your professionalism is your patriotism. And I love my country, so I want to be as professional as I can be."
DW Akademie's Frauenblicke (Women's Perspectives) is funded by the Federal Foreign Office (AA).