Sahar Speaks: The Voices of Afghan Women

Afghanistan is teeming with the untold stories of half of its population. Sahar Speaks gives a rare and revealing look into Afghan women’s lives, as reported by Afghan women on the ground.

Despite The Backlash, Women Take The Wheel In Afghanistan

Afghanistan has become the never-ending war of our time. Its mere mention produces sighs and shrugs from diplomats, despair and exasperation among aid workers.

In 18 months, the country will have been submerged in conflict for 40 years. Two former Cold War superpowers each spent at least a decade occupying Afghanistan, and it is now on the brink of a security vacuum that could engulf the region. But, despite this, the world is turning a blind eye to the fate of Afghanistan’s people. Donor fatigue has reached exhaustion, Afghan refugees in Europe are not given the same welcome as some from other nations, and Washington’s strategy is mired by ambiguity.

Afghan women have always featured prominently in coverage of their country. Yet, two years ago, not a single Afghan woman worked for the English-language, foreign media outlets in Kabul. As a result, they were often painted as either record-breaking heroes or pitiful victims. Not much came in between. This is why I founded Sahar Speaks. By giving opportunities to Afghan female journalists to work for the international press, more nuanced stories emerged. Our alumnae have gone on to work for The New York Times, the BBC, Al Jazeera and other news organizations.

2b60217045cf708b37f90984061e84dfe00c7f4f.jpegJOEL VAN HOUDT/SAHAR SPEAKS Female Afghan journalist in training.

In this second round for HuffPost, our journalists introduce us to women from all walks of life, touchingly relayed through visual storytelling. One participant focuses on the brazen attack on the American University of Afghanistan, when Talib fighters stormed the dormitories and classrooms, indiscriminately killing students and staff. In her short film, she shows the lives of two severely injured female students, who were forced to stay at home, bored and frustrated. The university was their world ― their sole chance to walk around, unhindered and unharassed. Afghanistan’s pervasive violence had cut their freedom short.

In another story, a black-and-white photography series opens a window onto Afghanistan’s much-needed but heavily stigmatized female police force.

We also meet women who have returned home after studying abroad, who suffer from reverse culture shock in their native Afghanistan. And we are introduced to Afghan women who have made it in a man’s world despite the odds, becoming drivers, successful businesswomen and breadwinners in widowhood.

In each of their stories, we are reminded of why Afghanistan matters. Just as the U.S. and other Western nations haven’t vanished from the planet, neither has Afghanistan. We cannot let its women slip from our consciousness and from our screens.

Being A Female Police Officer In Afghanistan Can Be Dangerous. But Here They Are.

There are only about 3,000 policewomen in the entire country.

Serving as a police officer in Afghanistan is dangerous enough, but when these officers are women, there are many added risks.

In a country where the two genders are often strictly separated, there is a great need for female police officers. They are often seen at security checkpoints, where female officers must check other women and suspicious vehicles. This has been exploited by the Taliban, who have carried out several attacks while dressed as women. They are gently patted down by a female officer on duty, and then they slip through unnoticed.

In a country considered one of the worst in which to be a woman, there is a dire need for Afghan policewomen. But widespread stigma, the fear of violence, and even death, from the outside world but also their communities, means recruitment is tough.

There are only about 3,000 Afghan policewomen in the country, or about one for every 10,000 women. But the women brave enough to take on the job will not back down. They know their jobs are vital, that they are there to protect civilians and that without them even more lives would be lost. Officers like Zahra Safdari and cadet Golmah Langari are protecting their country, and these photos provide a poignant insight into their lives.

59667a7c2100003700fc6977.jpeg?cache=thwtnnuyo1&ops=scalefit_970_noupscale Kreshma Fakhri/Sahar Speaks Afghan cadets take part in a training course at the Police Academy of the Ministry of Interior in Kabul on Dec. 28, 2016. The academy runs a six-month military training course for recruits.

59667a7e2100003400fc6978.jpeg?cache=jnd2pldfu5&ops=scalefit_970_noupscale Kreshma Fakhri/Sahar Speaks Afghan cadet Golmah Langari takes part in the six-month course at the Police Academy of the Ministry of Interior in Kabul.

596679121500006303bfd489.jpeg?ops=scalefit_970_noupscale Kreshma Fakhri/Sahar Speaks The view over the Afghan capital of Kabul from the Asmayi Mountains on the outskirts of the city in January.

59667a0e2100003400fc6974.jpeg?ops=scalefit_970_noupscale Kreshma Fakhri/Sahar Speaks Afghan shoppers walk through the Kot-e-Sangi Bazaar in Kabul on Feb. 1.

59667a7d1500006303bfd490.jpeg?ops=scalefit_970_noupscale Kreshma Fakhri/Sahar Speaks Afghan cadets study at the Police Academy of the Ministry of Interior in Kabul on Dec. 28.

59667a0f1500006303bfd48c.jpeg?ops=scalefit_970_noupscale Kreshma Fakhri/Sahar Speaks Afghan cadets study at the Police Academy of the Ministry of Interior in Kabul. In the entire country, there are only 3,000 policewomen.

59667ad9180000a085673f8b.jpeg?ops=scalefit_970_noupscale Kreshma Fakhri/Sahar Speaks Officer Zahra Safdari is interviewed at the Ministry of Defense. She’s been in the army for five years.

As originally published by Sahar Speaks on Huffington Post.

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