Fellows in the class of 2022 at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University have chosen Rukhshana Media, an online news agency based in Afghanistan, for the 2022 Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism.
In making their selection, the Nieman Fellows recognized Rukhshana Media’s “unwavering commitment to giving prominence to a silenced and terrorized community, the women of Afghanistan who are living under Taliban control.”
They added “Our class believes recognizing this team of reporters working within Afghanistan embodies the spirit and long-standing tradition of the Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity. Journalists in Afghanistan have risked their lives to report on conditions there and women working in Afghan media have been direct targets of the Taliban. Rukhshana has continued to publish nearly daily reports despite the grave risks involved in getting these stories in front of the public.”
Rukhshana’s small team of mostly female journalists launched their newsroom in November 2020, nearly a year before the fall of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government. They continue to investigate many critical women’s issues, including gender violence, child marriage and gender discrimination.
The organization’s chief editor and founder Zahra Joya, now living in exile, was recently named one of Time magazine’s 2022 Women of the Year. Her story is a window into the human cost of a brutal war. In an August 2021 interview with Vice World News, she said: “The Taliban will kill us. It’s our responsibility to share women’s voices and reporting from our country. But at the moment, it’s become really hard to even write.”
Born in Afghanistan’s Bamyan Province in 1992, Joya was just 5 years old when the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan. From 1996 to 2001, when the Taliban banned almost all education for girls, she dressed as a boy in order to attend school. Joya was the first girl from her small village to go to university, where she studied law. She began working as a journalist for a local media outlet in 2011 and in 2020, started Rukhshana Media. In June of 2021, the news outlet started a partnership with The Guardian to publish stories about Afghan women. Last December, Rukhshana won the Marie Colvin Award at the British Journalism Awards.
The name Rukhshana honors and preserves the memory of a woman fleeing a forced marriage who was stoned to death in the capital of Ghor Province in 2015.
Rukhshana Media tells the stories of women across Afghanistan, from how they are treated at home to the difficulty of gaining inclusion in a society in which religious conservatism and patriarchy have ruled all aspects of social life in the past decades. Reporters write about current events, strengthening democracy, equality, and justice — and often against obsolete misogynistic beliefs. The news site has posted articles on topics ranging from the taboo of menstruation, child marriage, street harassment, and economic hardship to violence and gender discrimination and what it means to live as a survivor of rape.
Rukhshana Media also works to provide educational and work opportunities for women journalists. As noted on the organization’s website: “In a society that punishes women’s basic choices, such as the freedom to choose their clothes, bringing women’s stories to the forefront of public is a challenging task. However, at Rukhshana Media, our team of women journalists is determined to report on women’s issues as a way to create debates, inform, analyze and investigate issues related to women’s lives.”
The Nieman class of 1964 established the Louis M. Lyons Award in honor of the Nieman Foundation curator who retired that year after leading the institution for a quarter of a century. Lyons was a forceful advocate for freedom of the press. While he was curator of the Nieman Foundation, he broke new ground by diversifying the class of fellows to include women, minorities and international fellows. The award honors displays of conscience and integrity by individuals, groups or institutions in communications.
The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard educates leaders in journalism and elevates the standards of the profession through special programs that convene scholars and experts in all fields. More than 1,600 journalists from 99 countries have been awarded Nieman Fellowships since 1938. The foundation’s other initiatives include Nieman Reports, a website and print magazine that covers thought leadership in journalism; Nieman Lab, a website that reports on the future of news, innovation and best practices in the digital media age; and Nieman Storyboard, a website that showcases exceptional narrative journalism and explores the future of nonfiction storytelling.