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Clarissa Ward's 5 Tips for staying engaged and connected

We are thrilled to announce Clarissa Ward, CNN’s chief international correspondent, as our newest Ambassador. 

Our Ambassadors use their platform to raise the voices of the women we serve and shine a light on the issues faced by women in some of the world's most dangerous places.

Clarissa Ward could not be more perfect for the role, having reported from front lines across the world including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Ukraine. She has distinguished herself with in-depth, high-risk reporting often focusing on the untold stories of what life is really like for those caught in the crossfire, especially for women.

Here she shares her advice for staying connecting and using your voice to create change.

1. Listen to women’s voices

Being a woman is the greatest asset I have when reporting from war zones, where often 50% of the population is cut off from my male reporter colleagues. Women are the glue of the community. They have such a different perspective on war, on politics and on life. I remember one time being in Aleppo when there were bombs falling all around us.

Initially, I was sat in a room with the men, and they were all chain-smoking and arguing loudly with each other about geopolitics – but no one was talking about the shelling or acknowledging the fact that they were afraid.

Then I went into the room next door with the women, and it was totally different – there was a complete acceptance of the fear and the reality that we might die. It felt so much more authentic and freeing to be able to say: Wow, this is scary, and there’s not much we can do right now except embrace this moment of sisterhood and just be here with each other. There’s still pervasive misogyny in the media industry, to the point that we don’t want to cover this human angle on TV – it’s not seen as ‘real news’.

I’ve been told it’s ‘corny’, ‘too emotional’ – or many other words used to make women feel small or inferior. I disagree; of course we need to have the facts, but this shared humanity is an incredibly important part of the story.

2. Look for authenticity and truth, not neutrality

Syria broke my heart, and it was the first conflict where I really felt that tension between doing great work that hopefully effects change, and understanding my professional responsibilities as a journalist. Traditionally, as journalists we are supposed to be neutral arbiters on the sidelines – but there’s an increasing understanding now that that’s not realistic.

The news has never been neutral – what we were told was neutral journalism was really just the prevailing thinking of white, middle class men telling us: this is how the world is. Christiane Amanpour talks about the idea of being “truthful, not neutral” – I think that’s a really helpful mantra for journalists.It doesn’t mean that you should throw away the facts, or become an activist rather than a journalist – there are still parameters we must work within.

It’s good that we can now accept that we have a broader diversity of voices telling stories, and that everybody brings something of themselves to the table when they are telling their story.

I also definitely recommend listening to multiple news sources to get a sense of what the variety of thought is.

Clarissa Ward is CNN’s chief international correspondent. In her fifteen-year career spanning Fox, CBS, and ABC, Clarissa has reported from front lines across the world. Photo: Kate Brooks
Clarissa Ward is CNN’s chief international correspondent. In her fifteen-year career spanning Fox, CBS, and ABC, Clarissa has reported from front lines across the world. Photo: Kate Brooks

Catch up on the conversation with Clarissa

On International Day of Peace (25th September), we hosted a one-of-a-kind online event with Brita Fernandez Schmidt, Women for Women International - UK's Executive Director and special guest Clarissa Ward.

They discussed insights and reflections from Clarissa's newly released book On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist.

3. Find a balance

I have learned over the years that you have to find a balance. You need breaks, you need space, you need a normal life.

I feel incredible guilt about enjoying myself when I know what is happening in the world. But you have to be able to embrace joy without guilt, to recognise the privilege you have not to be living in a conflict zone, and to celebrate love, friends, and family – whatever brings you joy.

That will sustain you and enable you to keep working in the long term.

4. Notice the good as well as the bad

I have a fundamental belief in good as well as evil. When you do this work you see the worst of humanity, but you also see the best.

I’ve been so privileged in this job to witness the strength, resilience, and generosity of the human spirit in the most horrendous of circumstances – it is inspiring beyond belief. When you watch the news on TV, what you see is only a fraction of the story.

You are not seeing what happens behind the camera – the countless small acts of kindness, the people who took me into their homes and fed me, who risked their lives to host me so that I could tell their stories.

5. Keep hope alive by focusing on humble, realistic goals

How do I stay hopeful when reporting on so much suffering in the world?

I have developed a more zen understanding of what is possible and realistic. Instead of hoping for an end to all conflict and suffering – which probably isn’t going to happen – you can create more humble goals to attach your hope to. That’s what it’s about for me.

I hope that if I do this one story really well, that maybe five people will be genuinely moved – they might go on to donate some money to a charity, or write a letter to their congressperson, or just care about Syria when they never did before. If you keep your goals within realm of what is feasible, then you can sustain hope.

After Ruth Bader Ginsberg died, there was one of her quotes that was being shared which really resonated with me:

Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.

When you understand that, it’s such a eureka moment. It lifts those oppressive feelings of ‘I can’t make a difference, I can’t change the system’. Have a humbler set of goals, a realistic approach, and a fundamental belief that people can and will do beautiful things.

Use your power to create change.

Take a step towards creating change. Donate today and help raise the voices of women survivors of war. 

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