May 23, 2024

Event Coverage Highlight

Madeline Dane Ross Award Winner Discusses Thorny Dilemmas in Reporting on Women’s Rights in Latin America

Karla Zabludovsky, top, and Hannah Allam. Screen capture via Zoom.

by Chad Bouchard

In recent years, a rising call for women’s rights in Latin America has sparked resistance and violence from men who see the equality movement as a threat to the status quo.

On Feb. 9, 2021, the OPC hosted a discussion with Karla Zabludovsky, the Mexico bureau chief and Latin America correspondent for BuzzFeed News who won the 2019 Madeline Dane Ross Award. Her winning entry was a series of articles exploring the ripple effects of the fight for gender equality, including a growing number of femicides and violence against women.

“As this movement to garner more rights and to get more access to health care, more access to abortion, equal pay — as this movement has gotten stronger, so has pushback from men,” Zabludovsky said.

The moderator was Hannah Allam, a DC-based reporter covering extremism for NPR, who served as head judge for the award.

Zabludovsky’s series included articles that featured a mayor in Bolivia who was brutally assaulted by a right-wing mob, a woman fighting for her life after a botched home abortion and a woman imprisoned for aggravated murder after a stillbirth from complications during pregnancy.

She talked about Patricia Arce, the mayor of a small town in central Bolivia who was assaulted in November 2019 by a mostly male crowd supporting an opposing party. Arce was beaten until she was unconscious, then forced to walk barefoot over broken glass, sexually assaulted, covered with paint and gasoline, and her hair cut off along with pieces of her scalp. She said the story illustrates the intensity of resistance from men against gains in gender equality.

“You fight to make space for women in politics in Latin America, and that’s the price you pay.”

Zabludovsky talked about her story following Brenda Rivera, who fled Honduras with her three children, hired smugglers and rode on a raft across the river from Guatemala to Mexico.

“Imagine how bad it must be at home, to know how bad it’s going to get on the road, how vulnerable you’re going to be. You don’t know if you’re going to make it, and if you don’t make it, what’s going to happen to your three kids [who end up] somewhere they don’t know. And even that is better than staying at home.”

Allam, who said she often discusses thorny journalism ethics issues during university events, think tank engagements and with j-school students, asked Zabludovsky about dilemmas she faces during the course of her work.

Zabludovsky said she found it difficult to refrain from giving advice or assistance to Rivera during the attempted border crossing, at moments feeling “like cockroaches” for not being able to help. She recalled that the photographer she was working with, Daniele Volpe, initiated a conversation with Rivera about the dangers she and her children would face. “It was a big lesson for me,” Zabludovsky said, adding that she had been caught up in her hunt for the best subject to profile for the story, and appreciated Volpe pausing to make sure that Rivera understood the risks. “That was a just a really eye-opening moment.”

Zabludovsky and Volpe explained that they would not be able to help or advise along the way, only serving as “flies on the wall” while covering her story. After mulling for a couple of hours, Rivera agreed to make the trip with them tagging along.

They crossed the river on a small raft, and were caught. “That was just a horrible moment,” Zabludovsky said. “Oh my god, Hannah, we crossed the river, and as soon as the first of us put a foot down on Mexico, all these lights came on in the dark. It was about 3:00 in the morning. And it was the federal police and the national guard.”

She said she and Volpe identified themselves as press, afraid the police might shoot, and Rivera started pleading for the police to allow them to stay.

“I’m always going to wonder if maybe the police would have let [Rivera and her children] go if they had paid some money, but then they saw that we were there and that was no longer an option,” Zabludovsky said.

The article about Rivera’s journey ends with agents from Mexico’s National Institute of Migration arriving in a white van, “its windows reinforced with security bars,” to take Rivera and her children away.

The Madeline Dane Ross Award honors the year’s best international reporting in the print medium or digital showing a concern for the human condition.

Click the window below to watch a playlist of video clips from the program.


Read Karla Zabludovsky’s winning work here: