International reporter talks about untold stories as part of global forum


Beenish Ahmed, a journalist from the Pulitzer Center, speaks about reporting on untold stories from around the world in the Moutlon Hall ballroom on March 31, 2015. The event was hosted by the College of Communication Studies as part of the Global Communication Issues Forum.

Sabrina Scott

In the world of international news media, often the stories told are those that deal with large-scale issues like war and politics. But Beenish Ahmed, a former Pulitzer Center-supported freelance journalist, doesn’t write those kinds of stories.

Ahmed, the featured speaker of this year’s Global Communication Issues Forum, titled “Women and Children in Crisis,” spoke about how she finds and reports the untold stories of the world in the Moulton Hall ballroom on Tuesday.

Previously based in Pakistan, she said she noticed how news outlets from the around the world left questions unanswered in their reporting.

“I think that is what got me into journalism — because of the curiosity and just reading the news; a critical eye and wondering why other stories are not being reported on,” Ahmed said.

She said that she follows her own curiosity hoping that it works out and what her editor would think.

Some of the issues Ahmed has reported include female education access and rights in Pakistan, women and children in developing countries who are victims of domestic violence, transgender identification in Middle Eastern countries, and sexual harassment in Egypt during the recent Egyptian revolution.

She said that what she reports are core issues that people can relate to.

“I think that is what humanizes people,” Ahmed said. “I think it is hard to relate to a place when all you know about it is that it is bullet-riddled, but how do you relate to that? Core issues are what ties us. I think those stories give us more of an understanding of a place far more than the headlines.”

One of the articles she wrote focused on an African tradition called initiation. In Malawi, girls as young as 10 years old are taught how to have sex through a form of dance. She said after their initiation, the girls are expected to have sex when they return to their homes with an older man ­— often without using protection — as part of tradition.

Ahmed also said one quarter of Malawian females under the age of 18 are mothers, and one tenth of the Malawi population is HIV positive.

She also told the audience one of her stories about a beautician from Pakistan who started a non-profit called Depilex SmileAgain Foundation for acid burn victims. It provides medical assistance and job opportunities such as working at her beauty salon.

She told the audience about how she met the acid burn victim, named Bushra Shafi, who was the one who inspired the beautician to start the foundation after learning how she was burned by her husband, leaving her face permanently damaged.

Ahmed said that she asked herself if the story was worth wondering about, worth having questions about, worth writing about, and wondered whether her readers would find it interesting.

She said the stories that she writes about are “untold stories” and explained why she feels they are rarely included in our media agenda today.

“The problem is that, the Western media there, Reuters AP, New York Times, BBC … all these reporters and organizations are covering whatever blows up in Pakistan whether it is a bombing or a political blowup, right? And that’s a full-time job,” Ahmed said. “There is something going on all the time.”

Ahmed said that she likes to focus on civilians who fight back and the vocations that they take on a day-to-day basis that may be more troubling for them, more real to them, and have more effect on them on their daily lives than militancy.

Global communications major and graduate student Andrew Steel said Ahmed’s story about the acid burn victims stood out to him because of the levels that people would go to in order to commit that kind of violence.

“I am surprised about that as well, the lengths they have to go through to get an education,” Steel said. “It shows the lengths and the risks that they take to get an education. It shows why I should be doing everything I can here because I have that ability. I don’t have to struggle so why am I not doing my best? It’s just a way to keep myself accountable seeing the struggles of others.”

Senior public communications major Gabrielle Helterbran said that she was also shocked after she heard Ahmed talk about the topics she covered, especially about the sexual initiation in Malawi.

“I cannot even imagine having to go through what they had to go through at a young age – I think 10? –and eventually having rape being a part of your culture,” Helterbran said. “I think that it is important to take that away about what we take for granted.”

Helterbran said that people overlook the small things that happen.

“I think that you realize that there are terrible things going on overseas and especially in the Middle East but you don’t realize the little things; the smaller things that go unsaid,” Helterbran said. “I think that in the mainstream media, you would think that they show like show these issues. They show the smaller things that are going on that should be shown as big issues as well.”

To learn more about Beenish Ahmed, visit her website at

Contact Sabrina Scott at [email protected]