Sophie Radice, Communications Executive of Women for Refugee Women, discusses setting up a new award for outstanding coverage of women and migration

Women for Refugee Women Speaking Together

On International Women’s Day, this Friday 8 March, we are launching the first ever ‘Speaking Together’ Media Award. This will be celebrated at the reception for the Migrant and Refugee Woman of the Year awards, which is part of the Women of the World festival.

There has been a lot of debate about why some of the media are negative towards asylum seekers and how negative coverage of migrants affects government policy. As a journalist myself I know that it can sometimes be difficult to cover these themes well, to tell stories that are engaging without being exploitative, and that appeal to editors as well as readers. But alongside that we know that there are many journalists in the UK who  are determined  and interested enough to cover these fascinating, challenging stories. Rather than look at the negatives, we wanted to celebrate the best of our media.

As the nominations came in for each category – print, online and broadcast – it was exciting to see how much had been filmed and written that more than met our criteria. We wanted to find work that showed that the journalist had made an effort to discover new facts and stories, had used first person accounts where possible and challenged myths and stereotypes rather than following them. One of the difficulties for us was that none of the media work that Women for Refugee Women had inspired could be eligible for the award! So we were sorry not to be able to recognize any of the marvelous journalists we worked with last year, from Anushka Asthana at the Times, to Eleanor Mills at the Sunday Times, to Jane Garvey at Woman’s Hour.

We chose judges who really understand the power of telling stories: Gillian Slovo, who is a novelist and playwright and president of English PEN, Hannah Pool, who wrote a memoir of her own family history and works as a freelance journalist, Julia Hobsbawm, who founded Editorial Intelligence, and Yasmeen Khan, who writes and broadcasts. They were faced by longlists which had a real  mix; some of them were hard-hitting stories which revealed the difficulties that women seeking asylum face and others were positive, even inspiring stories that showed what migrant women could achieve in the UK.

The judges took the longlists down to shortlists of three in each category. When we contacted the shortlisted journalists, we were struck by how many of them told us  how important these stories about refugee women had been for them and how glad they were that their work in this area had been recognised. The judges could easily have given more than one award in each category, and we are really looking forward to Friday 8 March, and to celebrating the outstanding work of all the nominated journalists. And we are already noticing some fantastic work – radio, print, television – which we know will be on the longlists for next year’s award.

Above all, we hope that when you look at these award shortlists you will feel, as we do, that you are enriched by hearing these stories that cross cultures and borders.