Female war correspondents are no longer a novelty. The legendary 20th century author and journalist Martha Gellhorn broke that mold around 80 years ago, and in recent times many of our most accomplished journalists and chroniclers of war zones — among them CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, the BBC’s formidable Kate Adie, Alex Crawford from Sky News and others — just happened to be women.
Male news executives like to think we have become more enlightened over the years as we made decisions about who should cover wars and who was not suited and should stay at home.
As I made judgments, as head of Newsgathering at the BBC and then president and managing director of CNN International, about whom to assign to the hellholes around the globe, the gender of a war correspondent was always under the surface. Was the story suitable for a woman? Would she prove a distraction? Was her hair too long or too blonde? Did her flak jacket fit? Crucially: Was she at greater risk of harassment, sexual assault and rape than her male colleagues?
My fears went mostly unspoken — particularly as most of the women working for me were too feisty to be challenged!