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Living through everything from detention in an Iranian prison to having an Afghan security guard wave a gun in her face, these women have been through it all.Four female war correspondents gathered Wednesday night at The New York Times to speak about what it’s like to be the first woman at the Associated Press assigned to cover the Vietnam War, to be the only woman embedded with a platoon of men, and to be a mother covering upheavals in Lebanon and surrounding areas.
Lederer made history as the first woman at the AP to cover the Vietnam War full time. She went on to report on conflicts in Bosnia, Somalia, and Northern Ireland.
“It was pretty easy to count the number of women doing hard news,” Lederer said about the start of her career with the AP in 1966. “My career has certainly been a testament to the progress women have made.”
After reporting from Saigon, Lederer move to Afghanistan, entering the country by pretending to be a rug salesman.
During her time in the country, she experienced the terror of a missile attack first hand when one crashed through the roof of her hotel.
“It gave me the perfect lede for the story I was writing at the time,” she joked.
Since she was a mother, Dergham didn’t embed with troops in war zones or head out to blast sites to inspect the aftermath. Instead, the columnist and senior diplomatic correspondent for Al Hayat, has covered the diplomatic side of war.
But that doesn’t mean she was playing it safe.
“I have been on a hit list and I was told I was next after many of my colleagues had been assassinated,” she said.
A native of Lebanon, she said she faced extra hurdles as a female journalist, saying that when you’re young and pretty, people don’t expect you to have brains or to be able to cover such complex issues.
Gaskell, founder and editor of The War Report, has traipsed across the Middle East, finding stories that men never could.
“I was always taking pictures of the kids,” she said, adding that one of her most memorable interviews took place in an a woman’s kitchen, talking about the woman’s marriage and family concerns, as well as the threat of bombs constantly exploding her country.
But Gaskell doesn’t necessarily take pride in her sex. In fact, she prefers not to make it the focus of her experience.
“It was something I really, really didn’t want to think about,” she said, adding that she loves the idea of last night’s panel but hopes that gender won’t matter as much in the future.
Saberi, a freelancer who reported from Iran in the mid-2000s, found herself dealing with such strong censorship that it eventually sent her to prison.
Television reporters had to go through government ministries, which would review everything, before being allowed to send video to newsrooms abroad.
“It’s not really clear what they can do and what they can’t,” she said about the regime’s abilities to keep an eye on Iranian citizens.
Saberi was imprisoned in 2009 in Iran when authorities noticed she was conducting what they deemed to be too many interviews. Saberi told officials her interviews were for a book she was writing but they remained convinced she was conducting espionage for the United States.
After introducing themselves, the four women fielded questions about what it’s like to be a female in such a high-octane career that has traditionally been dominated by men
And while all four faced discrimination, being a woman worked in their favour at times.
Gaskell said her male colleagues were jealous of the interviews she got with women and soldiers often shared with her their emotions about the war.
“I was almost a therapist,” she said.
In her experience, Dergham said her gender helped her get an exclusive most journalists would give their right arm for. She had an appointment to interview the Iranian president in 1980, but he kept her waiting for hours.
Eventually, his staff asked if she would like to interview the Iranian first lady — something that would have been completely unacceptable for a man to do.
So Dergham got the first and last interview with “the first, first lady,” she said.
But the opposite proved true for Saberi. She was barred entry to Iran’s parliament because she was a woman. As she walked away, she made a comment, which made its way into national media, about how she thought men and women were supposed to be equal in the country.
The government wasn’t too pleased with her after that, she said.
“I think for every time it works for you, it works against you,” Gaskell said.
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