Campaign: CHIME FOR CHANGE

A Dire Need for Female Afghan Journalists

In 2015, journalist Amie Ferris-Rothman created Sahar Speaks in order to equip Afghan female journalists with the skills, networking and publishing opportunities needed to give them a voice in international media. An entrepreneurial news project that will ideally serve as a model to be enlarged and replicated everywhere women.

By Amie Ferris-Rotman

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In March of last year Farkhunda, a 27-year-old Afghan woman, was tortured and killed in central Kabul to jubilant cheers from hundreds of male onlookers, many gleefully recording the carnage on their mobile phones. Farkhunda was wrongly accused of burning the Koran but investigators and witnesses quickly revealed that in fact she had spoken out against a controversial cleric or mullah. This teacher in Islamic studies was beaten with sticks by a mob of men who then ran over her bludgeoned body with a car before setting her alight. Farkhunda’s violent demise shocked Afghanistan, a country already considered one of the worst places on earth to be a woman. In Kabul, women led large demonstrations. Fiercely going against tradition, they carried Farkhunda’s coffin for burial, a practice usually reserved for men. Justice was doled out in what was seen as a triumph by rights activists and the family’s lawyer: four men were given the death sentence, and 11 policemen handed one-year jail terms. Farkhunda’s murder became a turning point in Afghan women’s protracted, bloody journey for their rights. But while the global press coverage of Farkhunda was huge – for weeks, Afghanistan was firmly back on the international news agenda after practically disappearing following the official end of the U.S.-led war in December 2014 – one omission was glaring. At the foreign news outlets across Kabul – the Associated Press, the New York Times, Reuters – there were no Afghan female correspondents reporting on this major, women’s rights story. Not a single one, in any capacity.

If we do not hire Afghan female journalists in the global press corps, this will continue to happen. The struggles and victories of Afghan women will not be documented. Their lives will go unnoticed.

There are two main reasons behind this neglect in Kabul’s foreign newsrooms. The first, and most powerful, is rampant and unpunished sexism in a society where men enjoy far more freedoms than women. All-male Afghan staff tend to oppose working with Afghan women, and some go to great lengths to ensure this does not happen. I personally experienced how far some are prepared to go: informing senior management – who are often far away, in another part of Asia – of the supposed dangers that will befall Afghan female correspondents is a common trick.

And this is where the naysayers and safety concerns come in. When I tried, in vain, to hire Afghan female reporters – even for one day, or part of a day – I was told they invited more risk than men, and therefore shouldn’t work. Kabul is a brutal environment and any Afghan journalist will tell you their number one fear is safety.

Today, the country has approximately 9,000 local journalists, largely supported by the United States and neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. For a country of 30 million, this is a high ratio; it represents the same press saturation as the United States. Of these, around 2,000 are female, many of whom work in radio, where their faces are largely concealed.

In its first round of projects, Sahar Speak has produced twelve stories for global audiences.

-"I dressed like a boy so I could go to school" - Zahra Joya

- Combating the Misery of Menstruation for Afghan Girls - Sahar Fetrat

- What it’s Like to be Married at 7 Years Old - Shougofa Alikozay

- For Afghan Women Seeking Divorce, a Wild Goose Chase - Zahra Nader

- Kabul in 1979 and 2016: A Mother and Daughter Reflect on Change - Sparghai Basir Aryan

- Beaten and Tortured for 24 Years to Pay for Her Father’s Mistake - Nadia Zahel

- Why the 'Barbaric' Practice of Stoning Is Still Used in Afghanistan - Parastoo Saqib

- Photography Project Lets Young Afghan Girls Share Their View of the World - Mariam Alimi

-Female Musician Makes Waves in Male-Dominated Afghanistan - Sitara Sadaat

- Internet Helps Afghan Women Find Their Voice in Battle for Equality - Sonia Azatyar

- Woman-Owned Businesses On the Rise in Afghanistan- Alia Rajai

- Female Trailblazers Shatter Stereotypes in Afghanistan - Tahmina Saleem

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