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New Delhi: A report essaying the lived experiences of Afghanistan’s women journalists, living under a punishing Taliban regime, paints a harrowing picture for what was once a flourishing media space.
The report is titled ‘In Their Own Words: Afghan Women Journalists Speak’, and is produced by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Network of Women in Media in India.
The report trains the spotlight on women journalists who continue to live in Afghanistan and those outside, whose lives and livelihood have suffered an enormous blow with the Taliban’s takeover.
For instance, an union tells IFJ that “unemployment amongst women journalists is 95%”. Over 257 media outlets have closed in Afghanistan since the August takeover by the Taliban.
According to a survey by the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists around September, there were only 39 women journalists working in Kabul, a steep decline from 700 in 2020. The capital city alone had 108 media outlets, employing 4,940 people in 2020.
The IFJ, through the report, has urged “the international community to extend support in the shape of humanitarian assistance, visas, relocation, work permits and support for women journalists to continue their profession.”
The interviews in the report reveal the daily risk and mortal fear many women journalists live in, in addition to the sudden end of their careers. One of those interviewed is Amal, a television news reporter in northern Afghanistan whose brother and father were killed by the Taliban and who has to be on constant move to keep herself safe amidst threats and intimidation by the ruling forces.
Since November 2020, a total of 12 journalists have been killed and 230 journalists have faced injuries, beatings, threats and insults, the report quotes from the Afghan Journalists’ Safety Committee’s finding. Since the Taliban took over in August 2021, at least 67 journalists have faced violence.
The report also focuses on the financial and diplomatic hurdles involved in ensuring safety for the women journalists who are most at risk, noting that governments should be doing more to ensure their safety.
Most women interviewed pointed towards the sustained threat of the Taliban, even when they were not in power – which in turn, lends credence to fears that the Taliban’s promise of a lenient rule were probably hollow.
Noor Begum, a 39-year-old journalist in exile notes that members of the Taliban had destroyed the exclusive radio and television stations she had built in 2015, 2016 and finally, August 2021.
Begum’s efforts to train women in journalism and broadcasting met with threats by both the Taliban and religious scholars, but she was largely undeterred, moving houses thrice with her family. Now, having escaped the country, Begum has to start afresh in the US, where there are restrictions for shelter camp residents.
“I want to show the Taliban and their allies that women never accept defeat,” she is quoted as having said.
Journalists quoted in the report, even those who have escaped like Begum, speak of excruciating worry of members of their family and colleagues left behind. A 25-year-old TV presenter and reporter who managed to flee to Turkey, for instance, could only bring three of her family members.
From Canada, the veteran journalist Makia reflects on overlapping threats that makes it impossible to work as a journalist in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan any more.
“A lot of them are beaten by the Taliban and hence it is a disaster for me and all my colleagues that they are still in Afghanistan. I want to [tell] the international journalists’ organisations and their countries to take them, real journalists, from Afghanistan. They
struggle for human rights, for our country and for their job,” she says.
The journalists all speak of long-held dreams of being successful in the profession, with a 19-year-old Kabul reporter noting that the regression that the field has suffered under the Taliban will take “another 20 years” to reverse.
The journalists’ work span radio, online and television outlets, all of which are paused now.
According to UNHCR estimates, as of November 2021, 3.4 million people in Afghanistan have been uprooted by conflict, with a large majority being women and children.
In September, a group of UN human rights experts identified Afghan journalists and media workers, particularly women, at heightened risk and called on all States to provide urgent protection to those seeking safety abroad, the report notes, calling for humanitarian assistance and shelter for those at risk.