I am pleased to share that I have joined the board of the International Women's Media Foundation (IWMF), an organization dedicated to supporting the work of women journalists around the world.
I have admired this organization for years, which is why I am so excited to become part of it. By recognizing the work of courageous women journalists around the world, the IWMF provides vital protection to women journalists who challenge their governments, expose corruption and bravely speak for the voiceless in their respective societies.
Last year I wrote about the 2012 winners of the IWMF's Courage award, which included an Azerbaijani radio journalist named Khadija Ismayilova (pictured), who broadcasts about corruption in the offices of Azerbaijan's president and other officials.
Last week she was arrested for participating in an "unsanctioned rally" on Saturday. The peaceful rally was to protest police abuse and arrests that occurred at a rally in the Azerbaijani city of Ismayilli just days earlier. She was held for seven hours, released and fined about $500.
This may seem very far away -- most of us couldn't find Azerbaijan on the map (look for Russia and go south) -- but it goes to the heart of what journalism is about. And it reminds us all that there are brave journalists struggling to help their societies remain free.
Ismayilova hosts a talk show at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Baku. She told the IWMF: "The police attacked just to take me. I was screaming asking who they are, as they never introduced themselves and what they want. They carried me towards the car, and they didn't allow me to get into the car myself. They just pushed me into the car. I was on the floor and couldn't move in order not to harm myself in the roughly moving car, due to the stomach operation I recently had, I have to be very careful with movements."
Ismayilova, like the other journalists who are recognized by the IWMF, is not the sort to back down. "Silence is what these regimes need," she says. "Power and the lack of checks and balances ensure access of corrupt officials to vast resources. Silence helps them to continue depriving their people of opportunities. Silence is supported by police truncheons and assassins' bullets inside the country and geopolitical interests internationally."
The IWMF called on Azerbaijan to "honor Ismayilova's constitutionally guaranteed right to free speech." This is a good example of how this group fights to defend freedom of speech around the world.
I join the board together with Alexandra C. Trower, Executive Vice President of Global Communications, of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. The organization also named Elisa Lees Muñoz, a veteran of the group, as Executive Director.
The IWMF was founded in 1990 by a group of prominent U.S. women journalists, based in Washington and dedicated to strengthening the role of women journalists worldwide.
From their site: "The IWMF empowers women with the tools, knowledge, and confidence to serve as a prominent voice on global issues. The IWMF's programs provide training, support, and advancement for women journalists worldwide. At the core of the IWMF's mission is the belief that no press is truly free unless women have an equal voice."
Bravo. I am very proud to join such prominent journalists as the BBC's Katty Kay, CNN and ABC'S Christiane Amanpour, Ann Curry, Glamour's Cindi Leive, Lisa Stone of BlogHer and my own former editor Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post on the IWMF board.