by Smriti Nevatia

(Chandita Mukherjee was among the founding members of IAWRT India chapter. She was a documentary filmmaker and served as the executive producer of IAWRT’s documentary “Displacement and Resilience.’ She passed on April 18, 2023, just two days before her 71st birthday.)

A framed greeting card hangs above my bed. It depicts the auspicious feet of Laxmi, tiny at the centre of a large Madhubani flower that resembles the sun. There is a handwritten inscription on the back:

For Smriti, for her first home.

With lots of love, Chandita    

January 1986

That first home was my first independent living space in Bombay, a rented flat I shared with three other working women, and just like that my life changed forever! Since I had been assisting Chandita for a couple of years, she not only understood how essential such a space had become for someone like me, who lived in a conservative joint family home filled with everyday conflicts, she enabled it through the regular monthly salary I began to earn as a member of her ‘Comet Project’ team.  

Bharat ki Chhap team cross-country bus journeys

Over the next few years, we went on to travel cross-country by bus, filming for Bharat ki Chhap (The Identity of India), a 13-part TV series on the history of science and technology in the Indian subcontinent. There was worldview-forming research and reading and writing, there was the recording of songs and mixing of the final episodes in late-night studios, and not to forget the fights! Yes, of course, we fought (as who could fail to, over years of such intense collaboration and proximity), over everything from creative ideas to tones of voices. And I learned. About filmmaking, history, politics, and, not least, friendship – the many friends I made then are still, nearly four decades later, friends I made for keeps, and Chandita was the fulcrum of this group. Comet was hands-on film school, postgraduate studies in history, and life lessons all rolled into one.

Bharat ki Chhap team reunion in 2020, more than 30 years after filming the TV series

What sort of life lessons? On Chandita’s 69th birthday in 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, some of us organised a “Zoom party” for her, in which Niti, a friend working at an art gallery, told Chandita how much she had always admired:

…the quality you have when…in public, you so thoughtfully introduce two people, giving some bits of information about both, in such a manner that both want to know each other. I think that’s a gift…something I wish I can learn from you.

As I replay that recording now, I recall nodding and saying to myself, “Yes! And also how, in social situations, she always has the grace to include people on the fringes of any group and to clue in anyone who came in late, so they don’t feel left out. That inclusivity, based on noticing and on caring – which I have tried to emulate ever since, and realised most people don’t bother to do.”

Chandita didn’t just bring people up to speed on topics under discussion at parties; she famously discovered the occasional outlier, sensed their potential, and nudged them towards fulfilling it. In the words of Freny Maneksha, a well-known senior journalist and author of two books:

If it hadn’t been for Chandita and Feroze I would not have become a journalist. She ferreted me out in the Taj shopping arcade where I used to sell shirts…and enthusiastically told me that Feroze was going to be the magazine editor for ‘The Daily’, a new tabloid…and that I should join him. I had no experience whatsoever but…she breezily brushed away my concerns. I had studied English literature, she said, and hadn’t we displayed our felicity with words back in college days, writing up lyrics, and mad verses!

“We” were a bunch of young women, who had studied in Miranda House in the seventies and become friends. Chandita was clearly the lodestar, bold and beautiful in her cotton sarees, encouraging us to stretch the goalposts….It was through Chandita among others that we began getting acquainted with ideas of leftism, of a more equitable world, of feminism, all the social ferment of the seventies. What was wonderful was that that knowledge was not shared in any didactic way, she had a vibrancy and humour that kept us deeply engaged….Senior to us, at the end of her term Chandita announced that she was going off to FTII in Pune. We were struck with amazement. Women seeking a career back then stuck to studying for the civil services exams…But films? Her parents had refused to fund her but with her poise she took up some modelling assignments and earned enough to pursue her courses….Not for nothing did you choose the words “Comet Media”, Chandita, for your venture. Cannot forget your blazing energy.

In a compiled video of messages for what would have been Chandita’s 71st birthday, old friend Anjali Monteiro, filmmaker and retired professor, author of books on documentary cinema, and current member of IAWRT’s International Board, recounts:

It’s actually been 46 years…When we first met I was this shy and timid “Ms Angelica”, as you would call me! Being with you and doing things with you I think has transformed me so much, I became much more adventurous, much more able to deal with new people and new situations – and I think what I am today, I owe a lot to you.

Neela Bhagwat, renowned Hindustani classical vocalist, feminist activist and author, echoes Anjali as she refers to the slide shows on menstruation and women’s health on which she worked with Chandita and Anjali in the early eighties:

I must tell you…how much you have done for me to develop into a woman with [the] confidence…to struggle and fight for [one’s] ideas and rights. When the three of us worked together…it gave me that identity…I became a different person.

CK Muraleedharan, cinematographer of several successful Bollywood films, adds:

…I think I never got a chance to tell you this: my first big project was with you, and you influenced me a lot in forming my work ethics, and equality in [the] workplace, and my political viewpoint about cinema…thanks a lot for being there for me in my formative years.

And Surabhi Sharma, filmmaker and film teacher, recalls:

You’ve always been there for my first screening, both Feroze and you –  even at a time where I didn’t think you knew me at all, but just an email from a fresh graduate from FTII was enough…over screenings and festivals and IAWRT and meetings and FTII strikes, one got to now you more…and came to depend on you…thank you for your presence in our lives.

When Reena Mohan, filmmaker, editor and mutual friend, sent out a call for these video greetings, I knew Chandita was already sinking. We all hoped we were wrong but, as it happened, she left us two days before her birthday.  

Chandita’s housewarming gift to me, that framed Madhubani, was followed over the years by innumerable other gifts. My home contains many cherished objects I received from her over the decades: ranging from a dozen hand-painted ceramic bowls from Kashmir (this was to compensate me for having missed the Kashmir location shoots for Bharat ki Chhap as I was unwell) to a circular cane-and-wood dining table with four chairs (my first dining table! for what is now my third home) – a set she claimed was just taking up space in a corner of the immense sea-facing flat where she lived with her husband Feroze, and which she made forever and indelibly her own with her plants and her contemporary art and traditional craft collections – and all those unforgettable parties with amazing food! – even as she never failed to honour the memory of Feroze’s grandmother whom she had loved deeply, and from whom they had inherited their home. And the day I came out to her as a queer woman, she was so overjoyed for me that she pulled open a huge cabinet drawer in which were stored the artisanal treasures she never failed to acquire on her travels, and asked me to pick a present, any present! How can I describe what I felt? So affirmed, held, special, moved (it’s another matter that I chose a pair of sandals with vaguely rainbow straps, which I never managed to wear because they were some two sizes too large, but it was still one of the best presents I’ve ever received).

What was behind that deep drawerful of presents, the works of Vivan Sundaram and Sudhir Patwardhan and Nalini Malani on her walls, and those rows upon rows of brass and copper lotas? Chandita had lived abroad, on and off, till she was 16, and after returning to India for good and completing her formal studies, she immersed herself in the nuances and histories and processes of Indian crafts and textiles and art and culture and food. Everything interested her, deeply, seriously, joyously. No wonder she was a polymath – speaking of a painter’s characteristic brush strokes with the same easy familiarity with which she expounded on the use of a certain spice in a specific cuisine, or bewailed the commercial mass production of her beloved Bastar bell metal art on which she had made a documentary towards the start of her filmmaking career.

Of the spirit that made her such a traveller of so many realms, we get an early glimpse from Betsy Wollheim, who remembers Chandita as her “dear, dear high school friend”:

…her wonderful mischief-loving soul, her intelligence and informed world view helped me get through some of the toughest years of my life. 

We used to go to Christmas midnight mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (a Jew and a Hindu) because it was different and exciting for us. One year we came out at 1:45 am (high mass) and it had snowed. There were no cars anywhere. Without even speaking, we both ran down the middle of a deserted, snow covered Fifth Avenue with joyous abandon. 

I cried when she went back to India in 1968, but happily, we did live to see one another twice more…  

And Dorit Kehr says:

Chandita and I were close friends in High School and she was an expansive influence in my life, introducing me to Living Theater and much else. We lost touch for many years and reconnected in 2009. I visited her in India and was fortunate to have her as my guide, teaching me history and providing an insider’s view.

Celebrated photographer Pablo Bartholomew gives us his version (along with a glorious and already widely shared photograph) of the teenager from New York newly arrived in Delhi:

In my mid-teens, I was part of a street play, nearly ready to hit the road, when in walks Chandita Mukherjee…This lovely-looking lass with a glowing face and broad smile…Rumours were that her father was in the Foreign Service and was back on a home posting, so here she was….Feroze Chandra was a prefect in our school…So I remember him too…a tall, lanky, good-looking lad with wavy middle-parted hair…. and I distinctly remember Feroze’s eyes popping out at seeing Chandita. So he swooned, and she swept him off his feet…Cut to this photograph taken in my late teens; Chandita was studying at the Film and Television Institute (FTII). We rendezvoused in the canteen with Ketan Mehta. It seemed they were up to some mischief, and Chandita very expressively and enthusiastically egging him to induct me into their scheme of things.

Chandita at the FTII canteen © Pablo Bartholomew / All Rights Reserved.

Who knows quite how and when that young woman who was often “up to some mischief” grew into a mentor figure for younger practitioners, one of whom recalls that “she was someone whom two generations of young filmmakers worked with at some point in their lives.” Filmmaker Reema Borah shares an email that she, as a newbie film school graduate, received on 30/12/2005:

Dear Reema
I was wondering what you plan to do after the Institute. I need someone to work with me. It is difficult for me to give a job description in a nutshell. We will have to meet and play it by ear. I liked your film on Arun Kolhatkar and so I thought we may hit it off.
Do you plan to visit Mumbai at any time? Do let me know.
Best wishes for the New Year!

And Pooja Das Sarkar recounts:

…I was a fresh graduate from TISS…who wanted to work with her idols, especially women who made films….I had a short stint in 2009 at Chandita’s storehouse of wonders — her NGO Comet Media Foundation…She represented everything dear to me – documentary, education, media for advocacy, media for development, science education, children’s media, workshops for training….[The] office on Lamington Road [had] a spacious library with books on sociology, science, feminism and all kinds of material on the development sector….Chandita was tall and intimidating, but also she would break into her exuberant smile and welcome people warmly….she would share her ideas and knowledge openly and encourage us to experiment, be radical, and not be “pen-pushers”!…there was no slacking around her….[her] impact remains on all of us who were touched by her sheer force of intellect and joy at sharing and disseminating knowledge. She inspires me to live my life according to the principles that matter to me….Chandita, your work will live on in film…Your courage, spirit and erudition will always lead us — women in cinema. 

Pooja remembers last meeting Chandita at a screening of theatre practitioner Anamika Haksar’s acclaimed first film, ‘Ghode ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon’, and here’s Anamika speaking of Chandita:

My sister’s friend, who helped me too….Brought up my son on her bookshop of Indian publications and toys. She came…for my play ‘Uchakka’, supported me thru ‘Ghode ko Jalebi…’, came for my first talk in Mumbai.

While Chandita encouraged her juniors and supported her peers, she didn’t hold back from pointed albeit constructive criticism. That a “scolding” from her could be appreciated, retrospectively, as an act of mentoring, speaks to the wisdom of both scolder and scoldee. Filmmaker, writer and curator Paromita Vohra recalls:

I was young, overwhelmed by the city and the idea of work and nervous about saying no, so I flaked massively on getting back to her. The second time I met Chandita, she gave me a scolding. I was assisting another filmmaker and ran into her while we were shooting a peace concert in a maidan…She told me in forthright terms — not mean, but definitely firm — that what I had done was wrong. I was suitably ashamed. Yet I recognised, even in my foolish and shameful young way, that this scolding meant she was taking me seriously; telling me to take myself seriously, to be professional, dependable and to excel if I wanted to make something of myself in this world I’d entered. It was a strict, impersonal gesture of apnapan (kinship); an expansive act of mentorship. In the 30 years that followed, until her death last week, I ran into Chandita everywhere — at film screenings, at art shows, at political protests, at book readings and talks. That continuous presence had a profound meaning: it signified belief and confidence in a world she had chosen to be part of and had also helped to build….We did not always agree and sometimes complained about each other to our colleagues. So what?…Community is built by witnessing something together, by being able to recognise the meaning of what someone does, not simply their success or their pleasantness….Chandita’s commitment to media, education and social change was deep. Her smile was big. Her saris were beautiful….Her scoldings had been many and may we count them among her achievements as acts of idealistic love and feminist comradeship.​

Filmmaker Miriam Chandy Menacherry echoes Paromita’s thoughts about community-building: 

Right now when the Indian documentary is being hailed internationally I look at your work, your generation and your legacy and salute the way you carved the path with your comrades, each fiercely independent women, yet able to come together with a common sense of purpose to build community. It is on your shoulders that we documentary filmmakers especially women have climbed higher. I am happy that I got a few stolen moments between screenings with you in the last IAWRT festival just before the pandemic… bright-eyed, fiercely critical, generously kind and always with that smile.

For all her pioneering contributions, and the many awards and felicitations that came her way, one of Chandita’s most disarming qualities was how she never seemed to consider herself particularly deserving of compliments. When people recalled some personal act of kindness by her, she looked bemused, as if wondering how else we were supposed to behave towards one another. Feminist academic and activist Vibhuti Patel remembers her as:

…a helpful, self-effacing and highly refined comrade….On 6-3-2009, SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai had collaborated with Vacha Charitable Trust to commemorate 8th March…where short films made by girls from VACHA, who were trained by Chandita, were screened. We felicitated Chandita who was not prepared for so many nice things being told about her by so many of us!! She blushed.

We at Vacha Trust salute Com. Chandita Mukherjee for her commitment to Development Media for Equity and Social Justice.

While Chandita could wax eloquent about cinema, or impress you with her knowledge of things ranging from saree weaves to elliptical orbits to watermelon rind pickle (“When I was a child in Poland…” begins one of her WhatsApp messages on a group where some of us exchanged recipes during the pandemic, and she goes on to detail the method of making that long-ago pickle, not forgetting to stress the importance of sterilised hands and bottles, and describing the eventual taste and texture), she could also point to someone walking on the pavement near her home and regale you with their life story – in scenes complete with dialogue! Your protests of “But how can you know s/he said that? You weren’t there!” made no difference. What she didn’t know, she invented, a documentarist playing the fiction card with élan.

Filmmaker and cinematographer Avijit Mukul Kishore, who worked with her in 2012 on a film on the teaching of Mathematics, recalls the fun they had on location: 

Chandita was a great storyteller, full of anecdotes and good-natured gossip! Nothing oils film crew conversations better!

Arindam Ghatak, who spent some time in Chandita’s office editing films for her as well as for others, has vivid memories: 

…she was encouraging and firm and warm all at the same time though her fierce nature sometimes made me a little edgy but then simultaneously, she was also so open-hearted and passionate that [it] made you drop unnecessary defences…

Storyteller, fierce, open-hearted: all true. Make no mistake, Chandita could also be exasperating! I worked with her from time to time on different projects, till as recently as five years ago, and she was so adamant things be done a certain way, whether it was how you named a Word document or how you made columns on an Excel sheet, I would get intensely irritated. She was always apprehensive that someone was going to ignore the golden rules of standardisation, because that kind of shoddiness, which she encountered at every turn, upset her terribly. I had to remind her many times that I now freelanced as a text editor and that for me a certain kind of standardisation was next to the godliness to which neither of us actually subscribed. I told her I yelled at students who gave me scripts with tenses, cases and colons all mixed up, but I wish now I had also told her (perhaps I did) that I had pretty much learned the value of basic stylistic consistency from her, all those Comet years ago. And that maybe we had both absorbed this particular lesson from the Harappan bricks and weights and measures that we made such a song and dance about in Episode 3 of ‘Bharat ki Chhap’!

Chandita was closely associated with the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, and did a number of workshops with students there. Arun Gupta, former Head of Film and Video Communication, shares a video link of a session she took there, which archives her charm and  persona for posterity:

A true woman of substance, she was my super senior from FTII, and also responsible for getting me the teaching job at NID, for which I will remain permanently indebted. I was a great contemporary fan of her seminal history of Indian science TV series on Doordarshan called ‘Bharat Ki Chhap’ (originally telecast in 1989). Later, in 2014, I organised a talk by her at NID on the trials and triumphs of the making of ‘Bharat Ki Chhap’.

You can watch the entire half-hour video recording of that (FVC PLUS with CHANDITA MUKHERJEE) here:

Always open to new ideas, Chandita moved out of the pedagogy sphere to co-curate two editions of the travelling festival VAICA (Video Art by Indian Contemporary Artists) with visual artist Bharati Kapadia and architect Anuj Daga, in 2021 and ’22. Bharati Kapadia says of the experience:

Her dynamism and generosity were exceptional…[it] was a many-layered experience for me.

And Anuj Daga writes:

When Chandita proposed the cover for the second edition of VAICA –  the gripping visual from Tallur LN’s phenomenal film ‘Interference’ –   I knew how well she understood the moving image and her ability to immerse herself…into its discourse. Much like the slow motion of the unsettling dust in Tallur’s work, Chandita could slow herself down and pick the details, weaving a cloud of meaning through the specs of the screen.

I shall never stop coming across things I’ll want to share with her, films and articles, plays and art shows and foods, and I’ll never again enjoy the privilege of her responses and insights. And what if the Harappan script is deciphered in our lifetimes? What if Indian fascism is finally laid low, maybe even in 2024? My litany of what-ifs is sure to be endless; I’ll end instead with poetic tributes from two other friends.

from Gita Chadha, teacher of Sociology and Feminist Science Studies (STS is Science and Technology Studies):

…that face, so beautiful 

The voice so measured, so kind

The laughter, hesitant at times full-throated at others

Chandita Mukherjee 

Of Bharat ki Chhap, a classic for STS people, something I still watch with wonder and recommend with conviction

Of Comet Media, the place to go to, for toys and books…

And from Ajay Noronha, who worked with her as a cinematographer: 

…the many worlds n lives she touched

With such exuberance and generosity

We fought, we disagreed, I sulked

But she always came back

With another promising adventure

Never with enough budget

But always with that large heart n big bindi

And a jhola full of food

May her spirit continue to shower us with abundance!

Thank you Chandita, for making our worlds better.


Three members of IAWRT Kenya were recognized at the Annual Journalism Excellence Awards (AJEA) 2023. Lourdes Walusala won Gender Reporting at Best Production in radio. Ruth Keah won Podcast of the Year. Mercy Tyra won awards in the radio and digital formats.

Pamela Sittoni received the Lifetime Achievement Award. She has been one of IAWRT Kenya’s mentors and regular speaker to our mentees on editorial matters. 

One of IAWRT Kenya’s mentees in the last cohort, Hiback Mohammed, won for her report ‘ICT & Innovation reporting’ in the television category.

The AJEA is Kenya’s prestigious journalism awards, given since 2012 for print, broadcast, and now digital journalism, handed out by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK). The MCK is a statutory and self-regulatory body established through the Media Council Act 2013 to regulate and enhance the journalism profession and protect media freedom in Kenya.

The MCK said AJEA has consistently demonstrated its commitment to shining light on critical issues that shape Kenyan society and the media landscape. Through the Awards, the media has helped inform and trigger debates, nurture dialogue, and advance understanding of the defining challenges of current times.

Read below IAWRT Kenya’s interview with AJEA winner Mercy Tyra:

Q: Congratulations on your recognition at the AJEA 2023 for your outstanding contributions to journalism! How does it feel?

A: It is an honor. I am grateful to God and to all those who trusted me with their stories

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in journalism, and how will this award influence your work?

A: My grandmother (May her soul rest in peace) was the inspiration behind my career. Being the teacher that she was, She would come with pied crow magazines and would tell me to imitate the late Catherine Kasavuli reading the news. Slowly by slowly, I gained courage and started a journalism club in my high school where I would be sent to drama festivals and games to compile results and report during assembly. My mother (a high school principal) held my hand and gave me an opportunity to choose any college of my choice that I thought I would get the best journalism skills at that time. I did, and the rest is history. I intend to use this award as a motivation to the upcoming journalists by training them on how to pitch award-winning stories.

Q: Could you tell us about the story that earned you this award? What was the inspiration behind it?

A: The title was, ”How livestock insurance saved a soul” – This Feature story educates the public on the importance of Livestock insurance especially to farmers from arid and semi-arid areas where climate change is a major challenge. Wangwe, a livestock farmer is among those who could not survive the shock of losing his 4 expectant cows had he not insured at least one. Due to the loss he had incurred, he was compensated by an insurance company and was able to bounce back to his feet.

The inspiration behind this story was the fact that most farmers do not know that they can ensure their livestock and get compensated in case of any loss hence leading to depression. The desire to educate this group of people was a major inspiration.

Another inspiration was the fact that my mother is a high school business teacher. I wanted to prove the fact that all her efforts in ensuring that I got it right in business reporting did not go in vain. I dedicate this business category award to her.

Q: What challenges did you face while doing the story?

A: Language barrier and harsh climate conditions

Q: What unique challenges do you think to affect women journalists from achieving their best? Fear of the unknown

A: Lack of opportunities and support from their media houses

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring journalists who are looking to excel in the field? Integrity, discipline, and hard work is key to climbing the ladder.

By Sheila Dallas-Katzman

I enjoyed watching the movie and thought it provided a vivid depiction of the challenges that journalists face while reporting in an unstable and post-conflict region

Christabel Unobe

The captioned statement above, speaks volumes for the general feedback of what people were saying after the screening and panel discussion at NGO CSW in New York.

NGO CSW – Committee on the Status of Women, NY (or NGO CSW/NY) is a convener of global civil society for the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women or CSW, and for global gender equality advocacy. On May 16, 2023, the NGO CSW organized a live screening of IAWRT’s acclaimed film Velvet Revolution at the UN Church Center in New York.  Ninety people attended in person. The projection was followed by a virtual panel of experts, directly or indirectly involved in producing the documentary. The discussion was not only about the production of the film but also about the concept of these IAWRT feature documentaries.  

It was the NGO CSW’s premier face-to-face event after three years because of COVID-19 and was designed primarily for attendance by NGOs in the United States.

Six IAWRT women filmmakers from various nations worked together to create this honorable video. In a globe characterized by violence and authoritarian governments, these filmmakers “point their lens to women who provide information,” as NGO CSW put it. Through this documentary, women whose stories would not have otherwise been heard on a global scale may be seen and heard. Velvet Revolution did that with its numerous international screenings at many international film festivals. This question was posed by NGO CSW: “When journalists are constantly under threat, what drives these women to do their jobs?” Our IAWRT virtual international panelists convened to answer the question.

Nupur Basu, Velvet Revolution Executive Producer spoke about how she stitched the six different pieces together to execute the central theme. This format eliminates the carbon footprints that would include trekking from one continent or country to another to shoot. The way IAWRT produced this allowed local producers to tell their local stories. Our other panelists were: Olivia Tumanjong, journalist, Cameroon; Lady Ann Salem, journalist, Philippines; and Najiba Ayuubi, journalist exiled in the US from Afghanistan during the US abrupt withdrawal from that country.  IAWRT USA president Sheila Dallas-Katzman moderated.

Most of the audience was previously unfamiliar with the stories reflected in the documentary. IAWRT was one of perhaps only two major journalist organizations at NGO CSW. This film made the negative reaction of certain governments very clear.

This was a memorable occasion for those who attended, and it raised the profile and prestige of IAWRT in the context of the UN Commission on the Status of Women. Thanks to Pamela Morgan for bringing the documentary to NGO CSW.

By Cyril Dayao

Digital Safe House and Collaboration Platform for Women Journalists in the Philippines

TACLOBAN, Philippines – Filipino journalists have expressed their solidarity and demands for the release of detained community radio broadcaster Frenchie Mae Cumpio, who has been incarcerated over trumped-up charges for the past three years.

Among those who organized the event are officers and members of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television, IAWRT – Philippines, and the AlterMidya – People’s Alternative Media Network. They include IAWRT’s international vice president Jola Diones Mamangun and IAWRT Philippines’ chapter head Lynda Catindig-Garcia.

The group of Filipino journalists was supposed to visit Cumpio in jail but their requests were turned down by concerned government offices, citing pandemic restrictions.

Still, they met with Cumpio’s mother who expressed her gratitude to the various media organizations who have reached out in solidarity to their family and have brought the injustices committed against her daughter to the world’s attention.

They have also met with Tacloban-based journalists who have expressed their solidarity with Cumpio’s plight. Campus journalists who were also present said Cumpio’s brand of journalism has inspired them to follow the path that the detained journalist has paved for them.

“Women journalists have been subjected to relentless attacks, particularly gendered disinformation and online harassment that attempt to discredit them and their critical reportage of issues affecting marginalized communities. Others have been charged with trumped up charges, including one of our colleagues, Frenchie Mae Cumpio, who continues to be detained for more than three years,” said IAWRT Philippines in a statement last May 3, World Press Freedom Day.

AlterMidya, for its part, said the struggle to keep the country’s press genuinely free persists as Cumpio remains in detention.

Cumpio has been in detention for more than three years after being arrested over trumped-up charges in February 2020. Her arrest came at the heels of relentless red-tagging against her over her critical reportage on the continuing plight of Typhoon Haiyan survivors and the impacts of militarization in the poor communities of Eastern Visayas.

Altermidya said, “with every day that Frenchie Mae and independent journalists are deprived of their freedom, burdened by fabricated charges, and silenced by unjust blocking orders– and we Filipinos are deprived of the full realization of our right to expression — it becomes ever more clear that we as a people must continue to fight for press freedom and assert our most fundamental rights.”

IAWRT Philippines Chapter released the online statement and petition to release Frenchie Mae Cumpio on World Press Freedom Day – ###

(From left to right- Riya Shrestha, Shailaza Singh Neupane, Sharmila Pradhan Satyal, Deepanjali Lama Shah, Ichchha Gurung, Anusha Poudyal, Suchitra Shrestha, Sheelu Adhikari, Anupa Shrestha, Prava Amatya, Mandira Raut)

IAWRT Nepal held its chapter meeting on May 10 and elected a new board. Suchitra Shrestha headed the Elections committee along with Nisha Manandhar and Riya Shrestha and successfully completed the election. Members attended physically or online. IAWRT Nepal held its chapter meeting on May 10 and elected a new board.

The new IAWRT Nepal board:

1. President- Ichchha Gurung

2. Vice President- Deepanjali Lama Shah

3.Treasurer- Sheelu Adhikari 

4.Secretary- Manita Pokharel

Board Members

1.Sangeeta Shrestha

2.Santoshi Poudel

3. Sandhya Thapa

IAWRT Nepal Elections Committee (From left to right – Nisha Manandhar, Riya Shrestha and Suchitra Shrestha).

By Nankwanga Eunice Kasirye

Offensive traditional myths about Menstrual Health and Hygiene, personal privacy violations, psychological and social torture curved out of limited, distorted or complete lack of information alongside worsening poverty levels and stigma on menstruation are major barriers that characterise period inequality in Uganda.

Period equity is yet to attract the attention of different actors in Uganda yet a number of girls and women barely have enough information, education and accessibility to safe menstrual products worsening the existing societal and institutionalised inequalities against them.

A multi-stakeholder approach where the media takes the central role to integrate Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management information and education through media reports content and debates would go a long way to create public awareness and sensitization.

Young Women’s Alliance for Human Rights –YAH recommends deliberate efforts to prioritise Menstrual Health & Hygiene Management at the sector level as well as enhancing the knowledge capacity of the media to create informed discussions that could trigger policy formulations and resource allocation.   

A cross-section of girls from poverty-stricken families use plant leaves as sanitary pads in Uganda…. some use old rugs that require routine washing for reuse yet soap and water are scarce. Some cultures taint menstruation as a taboo forcing girls into isolation during periods for they are deemed unclean… lest a curse befalls her and their relatives.

Sex for pads is a common habit among some girls from urban poor communities-the habit does not only expose the girls to early pregnancy but also exposes them to deadly Sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS not forgetting school dropout.

Menstruation is regarded as a qualification for marriage in some communities where girls are majorly treated as trade commodities for families, therefore upon the first occurrence of menstruation periods, the girls are sold off into marriage in exchange for money and items such as domestic birds and animals.

One in every four girls between the age of 12 and 18 years in Uganda will drop out of school once they begin menstruating, and school absence rates triple from 7% to 28% during their period – Ministry of Education Performance Monitoring & Accountability Report,2020

Some of the menstruation-age girls from families so poor to afford decent sanitary pads offer sex to men in exchange for sanitary pads every month. Decent sanitary pads are a luxury expense for an ordinary family in Uganda with the majority barely able to afford basic life needs beyond one meal a day.

Menstrual periods are an inevitable experience for any girl/woman within the reproductive age range. The Periods-start-age varies from one girl to another but it is often between the age of 9 years to 59. The experience comes with a lot of challenges of which bleeding is a constant and the intensity of flow is also relative, with some girls and women experiencing heavy flow or less.

The monthly blood flow requires special attention for a girl or a woman to comfortably sustain routine chores otherwise one would end up in isolation and drenched self-esteem out of embarrassment. To live above the pangs of menstruation, girls and women ought to have access to well-structured Menstruation Period Management services that would translate into readily available decent sanitary pads, wash facilities, convenient changing spaces, and psychological, social and medical support.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned facilities are generally scarce even for other occasional incidences since they come with a cost yet girls and women are already classified among the most vulnerable poor groups with limited access to money and other resources.

Like other inequalities that got exacerbated by the outbreak of COVID-19, the already frail Menstrual Hygiene Management experienced a steep deterioration with a lack of access to basic items like descent disposable pads pushing most girls into more vulnerable positions to afford relatively decent periods.

The Young Women’s Alliance for Human Rights –YAH in collaboration with the Human Rights Institute East Africa and TIPEN spearheaded the implementation of the one-year project code-named Breaking Period Poverty and Menstrual Shame for Girls in the post COVID-19 Pandemic with the ambition to increase focus on effective Menstrual Health & Hygiene Management and support for girls post the COVID19 lockdown in Uganda

Through experience sharing sessions with a cross-section of both school-going and out-of-school teenage girls in selected schools in Wakiso and Kampala districts, peer-to-peer guidance and holding of a multisector dialogue with different actors, a situation analysis handbook that lays down experiences, challenges, lessons and recommendations for Menstrual Healthy Management was produced.

A good number of girls interviewed reported having gotten involved in sex with different boyfriends in search of money for pads and one of them got pregnant and attempted to carry out an abortion without professional medical guidance which almost cost her life.

Some girls reported that they opt to ask money for pads from boyfriends because they are well aware that their parents/caretakers can barely afford basic life needs therefore pads’ cost could only be an extra expense pressure. 60% of the 440 girls interviewed reported that their parents cannot afford money for pads and 40% indicated that they secure money for pads from boyfriends.

Girls’ dignity and confidence is adversely bruised during menstruation because communities and schools don’t have clear support systems such as private pad disposal facilities, changing and washing areas as well counselling and guidance services.  The girls that use the old cloth rugs for pads find it hard to stay at school since they feel soaked and unclean making it uncomfortable to attend school. Some schools do not have Senior Women Teachers to take girls through Menstrual Health Management experiences while other schools have male teachers to execute the duties of a Senior Woman teacher.

To accelerate Period equity, the Young Women’s Alliance –YAH further recommends an all-inclusive approach that involves boys and men in the promotion of Menstrual Health and Hygiene Management alongside aggressive media campaigns for attitude and perception change to break the cultural barriers against effective and efficient period management.

By Mary Mkamburi

Gender-based violence and teenage pregnancies are two critical issues that continue to plague communities worldwide. GBV refers to any form of violence or abuse that is inflicted on someone based on their gender, and it can take many forms, including physical, sexual, emotional and economic abuse. Teenage pregnancy, on the other hand, refers to pregnancy in girls under the age of 20.

In Bungoma county, many young girls and women experience GBV in silence. They often suffer in isolation due to the shame and stigma associated with these issues, making it difficult for them to seek help or support. GBV is often perpetuated by close family members or intimate partners or members of the community at large, which makes it even harder for victims to speak out. Many girls who become pregnant at a young age also face discrimination from their families, peers and communities.

The impact of GBV and teenage pregnancy on young girls in Bungoma county is devastating. It affects their physical and mental health, education and future opportunities. Girls who experience GBV are more likely to drop out of school and face a higher risk of sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, and maternal mortality. Teenage pregnancy can also lead to early marriages, which can perpetuate the cycle of poverty and lack of education for young girls.

To address these issues, it is essential to break the silence surrounding GBV and teenage pregnancy in the county. This involves raising awareness of the problem, promoting open discussions about these issues and providing safe spaces for victims to seek help and support. It also requires addressing the root causes of these issues, such as poverty, lack of education and gender inequality.

Efforts to address GBV and teenage pregnancy must involve all members of the community including young, teachers, parents, healthcare providers and local leaders. By working together, we can create a safer and more supportive environment for young girls and women in Bungoma county, ensuring that they have access to the resources and opportunities they need to thrive.


IAWRT Kenya held a training on “Advocacy journalism” for female journalists from the western Kenya region-Bungoma on February 24 to align women in the media to the technological advances and enhance their capacities to use the online spaces safely. Mary Mkamburi is a mentee of IAWRT Kenya.

Written by Ariel Dougherty @MediaEquity

Edited by Sheila Dallas-Katzman

A dynamic and stimulating workshop hosted by the International Women’s Association in Radio and Television USA, IAWRT India, and the Women’s International Newsgathering Services – WINGS, took place during the recent UN Committee on the Status of Women (CSW67), a NGO CSW Parallel Event.  Visual Visionaries: Power of Film and Feminism, Teaching and Technology brought together feminist filmmakers from across the globe to report on cinematic progress for women and outline areas of deficiency that still remain. The widely different presentations were so complimentary in providing short histories about women filmmakers in their countries and underscoring the central universal problem–the lack of access to funds. Chilean filmmaker Susana Díaz Berríos explained her struggle in terms of DIY (Do It Yourself) as “super far from my classmates and even more from the audiovisual production systems.” 

Two of the women, Paromita Vohra from IAWRT India and Ariel Dougherty from the IAWRT USA  – both who have worked in community teaching settings with girls and women – showed short films GROWN UP GIRLS REIMAGINE WORK and SHY GIRL Each rich with animation, highly imaginative and fantastical, brought the hopes and dreams of girls into the mix of the discussion. The works heightened the central point of the session, that the visual nature of film has a powerful impact.  And if women and girls “cinematic stories are not part of our daily viewing – then it is like we do not exist. And we cannot make progress.” explained Dougherty.

The formation of collectives, feminist support and teaching environments, distribution channels, and film festivals were all central components brought up by the five presenters. The Ghana based film festival NDIVA was founded by Aseye Tamakloe, a filmmaker and session presenter from Ghana, Africa. Her work exemplifies how we all wear many hats to present and preserve film works by, for and about women.

Edel Brosnan, from Ireland, is the director of strategy for the European Women’s Audiovisual Network. Some of her work has centered on working with women to achieve funding, bringing full circle the discussion. All of these series of networks are necessary for women to make their feminist films that reflect feminist visions of the world and how we build and strengthen community and enlarge viewership.   

The session was moderated by Aaradhana Kohli, the Managing Trustee of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (India) and had brief welcoming address by Dr. Michelle Ferrier, President and Sheila Katzman, President, USA Chapter. The Zoom chat was quite active. In the chat, a long- time supporter of Women Piped Up had this to say, “I’ll work with the group to do a follow up session with the women’s donor community.” 

It’s not just about access. It’s about expression and world views


  • In Chile, there has been advances in terms of gender parity and inclusions of native peoples in state funds.
  • The new generations of audiovisual women have organised themselves into collectives to ensure safe places for women and dissidents.
  • There are more women in technical areas such as sound and editing.
  • It is important not replicate the patriarchal ideas of power that is so damaging to relationship.
  • In addition, there is a place for everyone and if we can grow up together, that will be much better for our film industry.

Who’s Who on the parallel event:

Ariel Dougherty, New Mexico, USA: filmmaker, teacher, co-founder Women Make Movies, Inc.

Aseye Tamakloe, Accra, Ghana: director, When Women Speak, Nvida Women’s Film Festival organiser; 

Paromita Vohra, Mumbai, India: filmmaker, teacher, and founder of Girls Media Group and Agents of Ishq;
Edel Brosnan, Director of Strategy, European Women’s Audio-Visual Network; and

Susana Diaz Berríos, Chilean Director & Producer 

Translator: Ana Valdés (Chile)

The 18th year of the Asian Women’s Film Festival was held from March 15 to 17 at the India International Centre in New Delhi.

In three days, 66 films were screened from 20 countries.

The inaugural session was in memory of the late Sumitra Peries, a path-breaking woman filmmaker from Sri Lanka who passed away recently by screening her film ‘Vaishnavee’ followed by Bina Paul in conversation with Yashoda Wimaladharma, an actress from Sri Lanka about her life and work.

Phase 2 of the workshop on Gender Climate Change Intersectionalities “Climate Change…I’m living it” for women and girls from marginalized communities on how to make short films on mobile phones, as they discussed mitigation and adaptation strategies. The films made in Phase 1 (held from March 1 to 3 at Alliance Francaise) were screened as part of a roundtable conversation bringing different stakeholders to the table.

A roundtable discussion on “Representation of Gender, Women and Children in the Media” was also held. Highlighting the fact that this perhaps is the most impacted and affected demographic with the coming of social media. From consumers to co-creators of media it has been a very quick transition for this section of the population. More importantly, the explosion in available platforms for dissemination of news, views, reportage, and fiction features also means it is both an opportunity and challenge to have gender, child and women-sensitive content.

Two exhibitions were featured. ‘The Incredible Child’ is curated by Samina Mishra on the lives of Afghan refugee children. ‘The Life She Lives’ An exhibition of photographs by Chitvan Gill Chitvin frames the protagonists of her stories as she explores the lives of women living at the margins of India’s socio-economic realities.

Written by Nancy Cohen and Sheila Katzman 

Editors: Frieda Werden, SME, HK

Organized by IAWRT-USA partnering with the United Nations Department of Global Communications (UNDGC), this side event was held at the UN Headquarters, New York on 17 March 2023. The objective of this panel discussion was to activate an international women’s network of thought and action leaders to work toward developing inclusive communication strategies, share information and know-how about the technologies women work with and invite participants to see how the technologies can also work for them. This event builds on the theme of CSW67, which was “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.”

IAWRT as an accredited body to the UN undertakes collaborative activities with several of its bodies as exemplified by the hosting of this event with the UNDGC. Being partners in this endeavour ensures that we are in a position to influence international policies that will impact the lives of women and girls.

As an international organisation for women journalists, IAWRT is acutely aware of the potential impacts that innovations in artificial intelligence (AI) could have on women and girls. The opportunity to co-host this event provided the catalyst for IAWRT-USA to bring specialists together to examine and deepen understanding of the positive and negative aspects, likely changes to the profession and the role of journalists and how to prepare for the future.

Panel Discussion

The event brought together experts from various media sectors to discuss the impacts, problems and the likely future we want for women in a technological world.  

Award-Winning journalist, Jane Tillman Irving, whose achievements include being the first Black female reporter at WCBS Radio-AM/News Radio 880, New York City and immediate past President of the New York Press Club moderated the session. She highlighted the speed with which our lives have changed technologically, reminding the younger members of the audience that at one time there was no Google everyone used encyclopedias for research. However, no matter the technological advancements, it still comes down to one thing for journalists – getting the story, telling the truth and doing it as quickly as possible. She stated that the aim of the panel was to address measures that are needed to prevent women and girls from being left behind during this rapidly evolving technological era.

 The panel members were, from L-R:

  • Dr. Patrice S. Johnson, Chief Program Officer for Black Girls Code (BGC)
  • Dr. Michelle Ferrier, President of IAWRT
  • Mia Shah-Dand, CEO – Lighthouse3 and Founder – Women in AI Ethics
  • Jane Tillman Irving, award-winning journalist, first Black female reporter at WCBS Radio-AM/News Radio 880
  • Leah Mann, Communications and Community Management Office, Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development – International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
  • Karin Orantes, Acting Chief of UN Social Media Team
  • Dr. Dijana Jelača, Cinema Studies Professor, Brooklyn College and survivor of the Bosnian War

Each panelist gave an overview from their perspective during the first half of the meeting and shared their focus for 2023. An interactive session followed their statements, which gave the audience the opportunity to dig deep into some of the more contentious issues that were highlighted by the panel.

 Leah Mann, in discussing the role of ITU in the digital sphere and Artificial Intelligence (AI), cited statistics showing the disparity in access to digital technologies between the genders.[1],[2] There are still many people who are not online and of those who are, an estimated 69 percent worldwide online are men, compared to 63 percent of women and girls. She argued that to change the stereotype of who can participate in the digital world, a) we need to see more women in prominent roles, b) narrow the gaps in digital skills and education by offering women and girls the chance to participate in the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math] world. April 27th is ITU International Girls and ICT Day which is one of the initiatives to raise awareness, empower, and encourage girls and women to pursue studies and careers in STEM. 377,000 have taken part in over 11,000 celebrations in 171 countries. The ITU is integral to the shape of global digital technological coverage and access.

Dr. Michelle Ferrier[3] spoke on the issue of protection from online media abuse, a subject she knows much about, having been herself subjected to harassment while teaching. In response, she created TrollBusters, an organization that supports women who experience online harm.[4]  She is also involved with Toxic Avengers, a magazine that explores digital harm and ways to protect the writer. She created the Media Innovation Collaborator programme helping journalists, media workers and communicators understand the technological environment and how to navigate the digital landscape. In Ethiopia, she is working to build an independent media sector of journalists united across the country to support each other and their communities bringing local news that impacts them. Dr. Ferrier told the audience that IAWRT is at the forefront of developing innovative approaches in response to the ongoing abuse of many of its members. Responding to the wrongful arrest and imprisonment of IAWRT communications officer, Lady Ann Salem in 2020, IAWRT established a Digital Safe House in the Philippines as a pilot program.[5] This has become a prototype for other IAWRT chapters in countries where journalists are under constant threat.

Dr. Patrice S. Johnson described the Black Girls Code (BGC) is an organization that helps thousands of black girls to discover and embark on computer programming careers, while using digital technologies to enhance their natural leadership skills. She introduced three of the girls who have been in the program since the first grade. If BGC can challenge the world of digital technology, they can challenge any industry, she said; she reminded us that when Black girls are liberated, we are all liberated.

Three Black Girls Code student ambassadors shared their personal stories. Since the first grade, Madison Clarke, a 16-year-old student at East Side Community High School, has attended BGC. She was given the opportunity to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange in honour of Black History Month. That is no small feat. She mentioned how much self-assurance she had developed and how she now felt like a beloved member of a family.

BGC Ambassadors Annyah, Madison, Ife

Ifeoluwa (Ife) Joseph, 12, had equally exhilarating thoughts about the Black Girls Code and being nominated by Time Magazine and Nickelodeon for Kid of the Year in 2019.

Ife, as she is fondly known, created a prototype to remove microplastics from water.

Thirteen-year-old Annyah Mchugh Butler, a veteran of BGC, who was home-schooled, said she learned to develop codes for robots and develop websites. She joined BGC when she was seven years old. In 2019, she became the youngest person ever to win the NASA SpaceX Project Person’s Choice Award.

BGC is a grassroots organization and has 15 chapters, including one in South Africa, where girls are identified, trained and nurtured to enable them to compete for exciting career opportunities. BGC is multi-tiered focusing on virtual, community-based and working in schools respectively. Many in the audience were in awe of the work of BGC and wanted to explore the possibility of developing partnerships with their home countries.

Dr. Dijana Jelača spoke on media, associated technology and trauma. She pointed out that whoever invents new technologies should make them accessible to different groups, not only the groups associated with the specific innovation. Take photography for example, when invented, it favored capturing people with white skin, which embedded a bias with an accompanying notion of privilege that white is best. Several decades later we are still trying to alter this aberration.

Jelača noted how women’s influence in telecommunication technologies has been buried. The Lumière brothers are credited with inventing narrative films; yet Alice Guy-Blache, an early film pioneer, actually made the first known narrative film. She has been ignored in many film histories. Women and girls must be acknowledged.

Dr. Jelača also addressed the philosophy underpinning digital technologies and raised pertinent questions. For instance, how do we make film screens bear witness in ethical ways – not only showing an image of suffering but inspiring people to do something about it?  Whose suffering gets ‘air’ time? She drew attention to how white Europeans in the present wars are getting the attention that victims of other brutalities have not. Jane Tillman Irving illustrated Dr. Jelača’s point by mentioning a question a media person asked about the Ukraine war: “How could this be happening in a ‘civilized [white] country’”? She was shocked to report that this unnamed person is still employed.

 She stressed that there are ethical considerations attached to digital technologies and issues such as the decolonization of the digital media landscape are critical and requires immediate attention.

Dr. Jelača laments over who the creators of AI are and its possible characteristics. She questions how it can be harnessed for the public good, and how will it include disenfranchised populations. And how will it impact the lives of women and girls?

Mia Shah-Dand talked about how hard it is to balance life and work. She set up Lighthouse 3, a consulting firm for emerging digital technology developers as she wanted to bring people from outside the digital technology bubble into the domain as active participants. A longstanding problem is that men dominate most conversations in STEM-dominated industries. She said women were more than qualified but are generally overlooked. This inspired her to publish The First Hundred Brilliant Women in AI. She reiterated that the qualified women are there but are still not getting the recognition. Since 2018, Lighthouse 3 has had a database with 800 qualified women. During the pandemic, Dand launched a mentoring program to help expand the diverse community to younger members. 

Most start-ups are started and financed by white men. Less than two percent of funding goes to women; less than one percent goes to Black founders. The diversity gap is because women are not in the room even when they are overqualified. This is starting to change, but now they are in the room, how can they work on projects that impact women – like facial recognition?  

Technology impacts all of us, she says, and we all need to have a say in the direction it’s going. Women are the wave. She quoted the Booker Prize-winning writer Arundhati Roy, “A different world is not only possible, she is on her way, on a quiet day, I can hear her breathe.”

Karin Orantes said that her team runs workshops on how to use digital platforms for positive social justice. They have 38 social media platforms in nine different languages with 65 million followers. Gender equality is the most important issue. The UN Editorial practice has strict guidelines for text and visual imagery. All photographs should have women in them … not easy to achieve in an old institution like the UN. They focus on showing the power balance for visual truth and focus on highlighting women in positions of power like in peacekeeping, deputy secretaries-general, resident coordinators, and crisis situations.

They know their audiences by studying the characteristics of the platforms. Men are in the majority across all of the platforms. However, the algorithms may not be giving precise statistics; even so, they are deliberately reaching out to female audiences as there is no clear reason why it seems that the users are predominantly men. 

The team uses every opportunity to feature women in stories. The role of women in climate, peacekeeping, and crises … all of these stories run throughout the editorial calendar. It helps that the Secretary-General speaks out often on gender issues. She said they ensure women are included in every image they post online.

On International Human Rights Day, 10 December 2020, the youngest IAWRT member from Afghanistan was murdered on the steps of the media house as she arrived for work in Kabul.

Key issues highlighted by the panel

Breakout Cluster Discussions

Six groups were set up and helmed by IAWRT members who coordinated the exploration of specific questions that were submitted by the panelists. These small clusters provided opportunities for networking, sharing of information and possibilities for collaborations on a variety of activities in support of furthering the mainstreaming of women and girls in the digital space.

A question that generated much interest asked to give examples from digital media that effectively addressed an issue related to women’s rights. Responses include:

         1. Hash Tag #MeToo Movement

It started in the entertainment industry and spread to the every day woman to denounce sexual violence. It encouraged women victims to speak up against Sexual Violence and showed strength in numbers when women unite their voices for a common cause.

         2. Killing of Kurdish Girl Jina Amini in Iran

Galvanised women all over Iran and became a women’s protest for the fundamental rights of women.

3. In India women are using digital media to address and transform girl child education.


Women have been making a huge impact in the media industry, breaking down barriers and creating new opportunities for other women and girls. With the rise of innovative digital technology, women leaders in media are employing a range of digital tools to empower and uplift their communities. This event was a clear demonstration of how far we have come and where we must still strive to go.  

[1] The ITU is an agency comprised of the United Nations, national governments, and private industry. Originally focused on spectrum management, ITU now also fosters expanding connectivity and digital inclusion as part of the coalition Partner2Connect (

[2] An uplifting note, on September 29, 2022, Doreen Bogdan-Martin, SIS/MA ’90, made history by becoming the first woman to hold the elected position of ITU Secretary-General in 158 years.

[3] Dr Ferrier appreciates the need for early educational boosts as she had been selected as a child to learn through the Nasa Goddard Space Center for children of color.


[5] IAWRT Digital Safe House is a one-stop or first-stop shop that links various journalists’ safety and well-being programs offered by different media groups, non-government organizations, human rights, lawyers, and church and religious groups in the Philippines. It’s the first of its kind anywhere.