Afghanistan – Women Journalists defiant in the face of violence

9, 2018

One of
the most dangerous countries to work as a journalist – is in the spotlight this
week after an attack in Kabul killed nine Afghan photographers and reporters
just days before World Press Freedom Day. Outside of Kabul, the dangers of
reporting the news, particularly as a woman, have never been so apparent.

Afghanistan – When a local official barged into her Kunduz office recently to
express concern about security, news director Sediqa Sherzai faced the stark
challenges associated with her female reporters trying to run two radio
stations and a television channel under constant threat not only from
insurgents but also from men who do not want women to work in the media.
“He told
me that I should hire my own security guards,” she said. “I asked him why the
government could not protect us in the middle of a big city, and he said that
was not his problem.”
That is
just one of Sediqa’s challenges as a news director, and as a woman, in a conservative
and war-torn country. Along with four of her young reporters inside an austere
studio, Sediqa’s most pressing priority is helping Afghan women be heard in the
country’s elections slated for October this year.
In this
volatile province with some territory beyond government control, women say they
fear to speak to the media and talk about human rights, much less advocate
openly for democracy and change. Even Sediqa and her staff of women shy away
from photographs, cautiously protecting their identities.
elections are considered essential to solidify the fragile social and human
rights advances made during the last 17 years. The struggle for full women’s
suffrage in Afghanistan, reminiscent of similar fights in centuries past in
other nations, has gained broader international support in the last two
decades. Pushing for change, the United Nations Assistance Mission in
Afghanistan (UNAMA) has supported initiatives that offer space for Afghan women
from across all sectors of society to advocate against oppression and conflict,
and also to stand up for basic human rights, including their own right to vote.
chief, Tadamichi Yamamoto, said on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day that
the UN continues to push for the government “to implement measures to improve
journalist safety and foster an open media where no voice is silenced through
said the unwritten code to silence women runs deep here in Kunduz. “Women don’t
want to talk because they are under threat, but also because of traditional
restrictions, including fathers and husbands forbidding them from talking,”
said Sediqa.
As news
director in a city besieged by war, she faces the dilemma of trying to dispatch
reporters to the hinterlands from the two radio stations and one TV station she
heads. “We can’t say we are accurately reflecting the views of women when even
our own female reporters are under constant threat,” she said.
Even if
Kunduz, a bustling city of some 500,000 citizens, weren’t surrounded by
near-constant conflict, there would be immense obstacles still standing in the
way of women’s full participation in democracy, say media officials and human
rights advocates.
“This is
a pervasive issue across our society as even highly literate men in business
and in government don’t want their women to vote,” said Lida Sherzad, an
advocate working with the Afghanistan Women’s Network (AWN). “There is an
immense price to pay in terms of psychological damage and pressure on women,
including their children, and these mothers are asking me why they should even
participate in elections if no one is protecting them.”
The right
for women to vote goes hand in hand with several of AWN’s priorities, which
include leadership, peace, security and legal protection. Lida’s AWN efforts include
creating new social networks and uniting different groups of women in a common
effort to speak out for women’s leadership and to end violence against women.
She has
discovered that, in lieu of face-to-face meetings, expanded access to social
media is helping unite women across northern Afghanistan. “One of our greatest
challenges is how to involve women and youth in a discussion of the importance
of having their voices heard and participating in the democratic process,” she said.
rights advocates say that while progress has been slow at times, the last 17
years have witnessed immense gains for Afghan women, whom the Taliban relegated
to their homes and prevented from obtaining an education during their rule in
late 90s and through most of 2001. “We want Afghan women to become role models
through political participation,” she added. “When they do that, they compete
and succeed, often more than men in their chosen professions.”
is a signatory of the UN conventions on human rights, including those on the
rights of women and girls. Women’s empowerment on the political front leads to
a greater awareness of human rights, according to other advocates.
“We are
trying to bridge the connection between human rights, capacity building and
leadership,” said Beheshta Edizada, a rights advocate and reporter with the
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC). Beheshta says she sees
her role in advocating against discrimination as an effort still constrained
both by a lack of understanding and by women’s inability to move.
has a high percentage of illiteracy, particularly among women,” she said.
“Women suffer greatly, especially in rural areas, where they are not always
aware of their rights. In this regard we find it useful also to enlighten men
with the help of local leaders open to the idea of greater female
participation. In our field visits outside the city, we focus on human rights,
including access to education and health care – as well as on the upcoming
women and encouraging their voices at the table and at the ballot box is
inseparable from the greater struggle for human rights, said the young
advocate, who provided an example of how social media can work to empower and protect.
Some months back when a woman in a remote district was severely beaten by a
group of men, she was sent to the hospital and was forced into hiding, but
eventually a video tape of her beating emerged on social media and the severity
of her case was revealed to the public.
networking and empowerment, her case has become an example to women about
courage and a tale of shame for the men who beat her so severely,” said