During the reign of the Taliban, the public media were banned from everyday life. But since the overthrow of the Taliban, the media landscape in Afghanistan has perked up again. A report by Shahram Ahadi
It is clear that democratizing Afghanistan will require the free and objective exchange of information as well as educational efforts. Afghan women journalists in different media venues who are active in the area of women’s rights are taking on an important role.
One of them is Jamila Mujahed, the director of the first women’s radio station in Afghanistan and editor of the women’s magazine “Malâley.” In early February she was awarded the annual Marconi prize for radio journalism by the city of Bologna.
For nineteen years Jamila Mujahed has been involved in Afghanistan’s media, and she was one of the women newscasters who took up the microphone after the overthrow of the Taliban. “In my wildest dreams I would not have believed that I would one day experience all this again,” she said shortly after her voice was heard once again across her country.
Too early to tell what the changes will bring
That was over two years ago. Since then the Loya Jirga has met twice and a new constitution has been drafted, bringing hope to the country again. But have there been any tangible changes since the new constitution was inaugurated at the beginning of the year?
Jamila Mujahed thinks it is still too early to tell: “The Afghani population has never complained about the laws. What they object to is the way the laws are implemented. This time we hope and pray that the transition will run smoothly.”
A magazine just for women
The forty-four year old journalist is quick to emphasize the important role that women can and should take in the transition period and in the reconstruction of the country. Her involvement in radio and press for women has an educational purpose. She initiated the women’s magazine “Malâley,” the first magazine to be published after the Taliban was ousted.
But more than 90% of women in Afghanistan are illiterate. The magazine uses many photographs and illustrations, but reading it is still difficult for its target audience.
In order to advance public education efforts despite illiteracy, the idea of a radio program for women was developed. On March 8 of last year the “Voice of Afghani Women” was broadcast for the first time. It is now one of the most popular and most listened to of non-state radio stations in Afghanistan.
“Our radio station is the first in the history of Afghanistan to bear the name of women in its title. The founding of the station is dedicated to the goal of uniting Afghani women and educating them about their rights through reporting and analysis,” says Mujahed. “We don’t want to be repressed politically. We want to have the same civil rights as men have.”
In comparison to her efforts with the women’s magazine, Mujahed is able to reach many more women with the radio program. But illiteracy remains a pressing problem for Afghani women. The magazine calls for women to learn reading and writing and to educate themselves. It takes the position that illiterate women have a hard time attaining their rights, while educated women are able to fight for and defend their rights.
Threats against women journalists
Educated women’s struggle for their rights is, however, also full of obstacles. “In a poor country a large dose of idealism is a part of journalism. We would like to report on what is happening. But the security of our journalists is not guaranteed,” Mujahed said in a newspaper interview.
The presence of peace keeping forces has brought security and order to Kabul, but the situation in the provinces is still very unstable and unsafe. Threats and attempts to silence women journalists has made their work difficult, even when the women try to ignore them.
“We receive threatening phone calls, but we have sworn to continue our mission to its end. We women have always been exposed to threats and forced to stay at home. This time we want to oppose these threats and fight for our rights.”
The founder of the “Voice of Afghani Women” is optimistic that her project will succeed. Jamila Mujahed says that her goals will be realized, even if the majority of Afghanistan’s population does not share her optimism.
Shahram Ahadi © DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2004
Translation from German: Christina M. White