The news that thousands of U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan served as another not-so-subtle reminder of the many enduring conflicts in that country. We have become more acutely attuned to the precarious situation through our work with Women for Afghan Women (WAW), a profoundly impressive organization that works to protect the rights of disenfranchised Afghan women and girls.
Manizha Naderi joined WAW as a volunteer in 2002. Today, as its executive director, she leads its efforts to raise global awareness and provide life-saving programs and services to victims of human rights violations. Recently, she spoke with us about WAW’s communications strategy and about engaging with the media on political, social, cultural and economic issues when there are lives at stake.
Could you describe your role at WAW?
For the last 10 years, I’ve overseen the organization’s operations in Afghanistan and New York while working directly with Afghan immigrants who seek our services, which include legal aid centers, emergency and long-term shelters, domestic violence counseling, employment support and leadership training. Splitting my time between New York and Kabul, I’m intimately involved in various training and outreach programs and work with individual and institutional donors. I also serve as the primary media spokesperson.
In a crisis situation, how does WAW convey its message to the public?
Like any professional organization, our strategy depends entirely on where the situation is occurring and who is involved. The difference is ours is often associated with a tragic event.
From a tactical standpoint, our first step is typically to issue a press release, as it’s the most efficient and direct way of explaining the situation while also offering our support to the victim or victims. Other editorial and opinion opportunities stem from the resulting media coverage, which help build the narrative and create a call to action.
Earlier this year Rod Nordland, international correspondent and Kabul bureau chief for The New York Times, had his book reviewed, which told a beautiful yet heart-breaking story about two clients who were forbidden to marry. This is not uncommon in Afghanistan, and the newspaper’s review elevated WAW’s work and mission.
Beyond media, communications also plays an integral role when Afghan provinces become compromised and need to be evacuated. We assist in those efforts while also coordinating with and educating other support groups.
What is the most challenging aspect of working with the media in your line of work?
Our biggest challenge is telling the success stories of our clients in between provocative news events. Reporters sometimes gravitate toward the negative and dramatic, whereas there is a lot to be said about the individuals who recover and emerge from such situations.
Also, American audiences who consistently hear about victims of war can lose their empathy. Obviously they wish no harm upon women and children, but unfortunately it’s becoming commonplace. That is why our job is so essential—to call out these tragedies and, more importantly, bring attention to this disenfranchised group.
When it comes to engaging with media, how do your domestic clients compare to those in Afghanistan?
Our Afghan clients in Afghanistan are more willing to share their stories, while Afghans who live in the U.S. believe they will dishonor their families if they go public. While we always respect their wishes and privacy, this can sometimes inhibit our fundraising efforts in the New York area, where visibility and awareness is more limited.
Which communications tools and channels resonate most with your target audiences?
We utilize all media, but nothing is more impactful than video. It reaches audiences in an engaging manner, as images are universal and tell far more than the written word. Videos are also ideal for social sharing, which extends the shelf life of our efforts.
Sarah has found great success in generating quality media exposure for professional services organizations that operate across a range of industries and specialties.
Sarah is an avid marathon runner and uses Second City’s writing and improv classes as her creative outlet.