Feminist Journalism is Essential to Democracy

Courage in Journalism Awards: Honoring Women Reporters Amid War, Censorship and Authoritarian Rule

Feminist journalism is essential to public discourse. It is essential to political debate. And it absolutely essential to free and fair democracy. Explore more at Feminist Journalism is Essential to DemocracyMs. magazine’s latest installment of Women & Democracy, presented in partnership with the International Women’s Media Foundation.

Yalda Moaiery and Willow Bay speak onstage during The International Women’s Media Foundation 2023 Courage in Journalism Awards on Oct. 25, 2023, in Los Angeles. (Vince Bucci / Getty Images for International Women’s Media Foundation)

Sexual harassment, threats, attacks, government oppression, a stubborn glass ceiling, unequal pay, accusations of fake news and a growing mistrust of the media all threaten press freedom around the world. And women journalists often feel the greatest brunt of these attacks. According to a report by UNESCO, 73 percent of the women journalists surveyed had experienced online violence as a result of their work.

The Courage in Journalism Awards show people that women journalists are not going to step aside, cannot be silenced, and deserve to be recognized for their strength in the face of adversity. It honors the brave journalists who report on taboo topics, work in environments hostile to women, and share difficult truths.

Each year, the Wallis Annenberg Justice for Women Journalists Award brings attention to women journalists who are detained, jailed or imprisoned. Many of these cases receive worldwide attention at the time of arrest but leave the public eye as new cases emerge. Sharing the stories of imprisoned women journalists is critical to assuring the safety of women journalists.

2023 Courage Awards

So far, we have honored more than 100 groundbreaking journalists in 56 countries.

The 2023 awards take place as oppression of a free press, gender-based attacks and distrust of the media remain at alarming heights. This year’s awardees brought truth to light amid war, censorship and authoritarian rule.

Meet the recipients of the 2023 Courage in Journalism awards:

Women of The Washington Post Reporting on Ukraine

Reporting locations: Belgium, Poland, Ukraine United States

Washington Post correspondent Isabelle Khurshudyan with her great-aunt in Odessa, Ukraine. This photo was included in an essay by Khurshudyan, “I always dreamed of visiting my ancestral home of Odessa. But not like this.” (Whitney Leaming / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Washington Post was the first American news organization to establish a Ukraine bureau in May 2022. In 2022, the bureau was regularly joined by a rotation of The Post’s women journalists on assignment.

The Ukraine reporting team included: Ukraine bureau chief Isabelle Khurshudyan and contributors Anastacia Galouchka and Kamila Hrabchuk.

Rotating reporters on assignment in Ukraine in 2022 included: then-Cairo bureau chief Siobhán O’Grady, video journalists Whitney Shefte and Whitney Leaming, contributing photojournalist Heidi Levine, Baghdad bureau chief Louisa Loveluck, national security reporter Missy Ryan, Bogotá bureau chief Samantha Schmidt, Berlin bureau chief Loveday Morris, contributing photographer Kasia Strek, political video reporter Joyce Koh and international reporter Miriam Berger.

When the full-scale invasion began, the Post team was in Kyiv as it came under Russian fire.

  • In Kharkiv, Khurshudyan and Leaming were two of the last Western media reporters to leave the city as it came under heavy bombardment.
  • O’Grady and Galouchka came under targeted artillery shelling twice while reporting on artillery combat in the Donetsk region.
  • Shefte, who helped detail the story of women giving birth in underground bunkers, embedded with a military unit near Mariupol that had been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014.

Levine—the recipient of the IWMF’s inaugural Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award in 2015—joined the team as a photographer. She commented, “Women photojournalists are often in the minority and gender discrimination still exists: Now more than ever it’s critical to recognize the achievements of women in journalism. We share this award with those at The Post who worked around the clock help ensure our team’s safety and provided constant logistical support. We also share this award with the Ukrainian people, who allowed us to tell their story; their pain, sacrifice and resilience have deeply inspired us.”

Due to the work of this collaborative, The Post’s coverage included exclusive reporting and content from the frontlines of Ukraine, including information from sources that were cultivated for months. The Post team’s reporting also included how Ukrainian forces were able to repel Russian occupiers using covert resistance fighters, drone-guided artillery fire and traditional trench warfare.

Collectively, their reporting depicted—gravely and comprehensively—the human toll of war on a civilian population.

Shireen Abu Akleh (1971-2022)

Reporting locations: Palestine, United States

Tributes to the late Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh at a protest and vigil at BBC Broadcasting House on May 12, 2022, in London. (Guy Smallman / Getty Images)

Shireen Abu Akleh—a renowned Palestinian American journalist who worked with Al Jazeera for more than 20 years—was a household name in Palestine and abroad. On May 11, 2022, Abu Akleh was killed by an Israeli soldier while on assignment covering a military raid on the Jenin refugee camp.

Abu Akleh studied journalism at Yarmouk University in Jordan. In her early career, she worked at the Voice of Palestine and Monte Carlo. In 1997, Abu Akleh began working with Al Jazeera as a correspondent and became one of the first Arab women field reporters for the network. During the second Intifada, or uprising, Abu Akleh rose to prominence covering stories in the Arab world and abroad. She reported on the Israeli invasion of the Jenin refugee camp in 2002, the Gaza Wars of 2008, 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2021, the war on Lebanon in 2006, and the Arab Summit in Damascus and Egypt. Internationally, Abu Akleh covered multiple elections in the United Kingdom and United states as well as many other international events of importance.

Abu Akleh was always eager to learn new skills and keep up with new technologies in journalism. In addition to co-founding Sawt Falasteen Radio, in 2020 Abu Akleh earned a diploma in digital media from Birzeit University.

In the years following, she became a trainer at the university’s Media Development Center where she taught several courses to undergraduate students.

In her career and in her personal life, Abu Akleh was consistently honored for her work, professionalism and courage. In 2020, she commented: “In addition to political issues [of the day], my concern has been—and will always be—the human story, and the daily suffering of my people under occupation.”

Reacting to this posthumous award from the IWMF, Abu Akleh’s family commented, “We are honored that this year’s IWMF Courage in Journalism Award recognizes Shireen’s career, legacy and bravery. This award is a testament to Shireen’s courageous voice that echoed through every home in Palestine. Her work has inspired generations of young women and girls to pursue careers in journalism, and we hope this award will remind the world of Shireen’s legacy, reporting and contributions to journalism. Most importantly we hope the Courage Award will bring us closer to achieving accountability and justice. While our family continues to grieve this insurmountable loss, these honors bring us comfort and solace. Thank you, IWMF.”

María Teresa Montaño Delgado

Reporting location: Mexico

María Teresa Montaño Delgado at the IWMF Courage in Journalism Awards on Oct. 23, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for IWMF)

Maria Teresa Montaño Delgado is a freelance journalist and director of the investigative portal The Observer. Her reporting focuses on corruption within the State of Mexico (Edomex), a bastion of the PRI party, which held power in Mexico from 1929 to 2000. Her most recent investigation is a collaborative reporting initiative for Forbidden Stories, The Guardian and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which was also published in El País. For more than 30 years Montaño has chronicled corruption within her home country.

She began her career as a correspondent for national media such as Notimex, El Universal, Milenio and El Financiero. During this time, Montaño began to experience government harassment including public denigration of her reporting, smear campaigns, demands from powerful politicians, tax harassment and isolation by coercion; she was also sued for libel and the lives of her family were threatened. Despite the continuous abuse—including state-sanctioned espionage in 2019—Montaño continued to report.

In February 2020, Montaño was fired from Heraldo de México due to her investigation of Edomex. At this time, she launched The Observer, which specializes in investigative journalism and fact-checking, and is open to all audiences.

In August 2021, assailants kidnapped Montaño, threatening death, then stole her car and entered her home to steal laptops, recording equipment and cameras. After her release, Montaño went into exile in Spain until late 2022.

Today, in addition to her journalistic pursuits, Montaño spends time promoting the right to freedom of expression for journalists in Mexico and collaborates with Article 19 and CIMAC. She also recently assisted in the creation of the Law for the Protection of Journalists in Mexico.

Yalda Moaiery

Reporting location: Iran

Yalda Moaiery during the International Women’s Media Foundation’s Courage in Journalism Awards 2023 at Bank of America Tower on Oct. 30, 2023, in New York City. (Bonnie Biess / Getty Images for International Women’s Media Foundation)

Currently on bail in Tehran, Yalda Moaiery (یلدا معیری) is an Iranian photojournalist who has covered conflict, war and natural disasters for the past 20 years. Her assignments have taken her to Georgia, Indonesia, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Somalia. Moaiery’s most recent work covered life in Afghanistan following the resurgence of the Taliban as well as mass protests in Iran surrounding rising fuel prices. Moaiery is a member of the Iranian Photojournalists Association (IPJA), and her photojournalism has appeared in Time, Newsweek, the San Francisco Chronicle, Le Monde, The Mail on Sunday, Le Figaro and El Pais, among other international news outlets. One of Moaiery’s most poignant pieces of work is her photo essay on women serving in the Iranian military and the legacy of Iran’s Supreme Leader Khomeini.

On Sept. 19, 2022, Moaiery was arrested by security agents of the morality police in downtown Tehran while covering protests surrounding the death of Mahsa Amini. During the arrest, Moaiery sustained physical injuries and was taken with other women protestors to the Qarchak prison, a women-only detention facility south of Tehran. Moaiery was released on bail on Dec. 20, 2022, and continues to work while awaiting her court date and potential trial.

Moaiery’s family commented, “Our family is thrilled to see Yalda receiving such a notable recognition. Since she was 18, Yalda’s courageously put herself on the frontline in many dangerous situations due to her commitment to photojournalism. Yalda deeply deserves this award, and we thank the International Women’s Media Foundation for recognizing Yalda.”

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The International Women’s Media Foundation's mission is to unleash the potential of women journalists as champions of press freedom to transform the global news media.