After twenty years of battling the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Afghan troops, the Taliban have seized control of Afghanistan.
Women across the country are now being forced to stop working and to return to their homes and women journalists are now in great danger.
They have experienced two decades of relative freedom after the Taliban were driven out of most of the country in an invasion led by American troops following the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York.
Taliban regime leaders have been stopping women at television stations and warning them “to go home, the regime has changed”.
That was the experience of Afghan reporter Shabbham Dawaran in Kabul.
As the situation worsens in Afghanistan, the World Association of News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) expresses deep concern for media workers who remain vulnerable under Taliban rule.
“Journalists and media workers have been regular targets over the past 20 years of conflict, and for those who remain in Afghanistan safety is a deepening concern. It is vital that we remain vigilant and focus international attention on those now fleeing into exile and, particularly, those left behind. If the story is allowed to die, Afghanistan descends into total darkness,” wrote WAN-IFRA executive director of press freedom, Andrew Heslop in an ,article.
Heather Barr, interim co-director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) explained that the situation is about to get even more difficult for Afghan women in the media.
“This will have serious consequences on the media’s ability to cover issues that concern women and women’s representation in the media,” Barr said, speaking to frayintermedia.
Barr emphasised that the Taliban’s hold on the Middle Eastern country would impact women’s ability to stay in the profession and best serve their communities.
HRW has called for the High Commissioner for Human Rights to create a body that will monitor the situation in Afghanistan to ensure the protection and realisation of human rights following Taliban abuses in Afghanistan.
“A situation so grave that it merits a special session of the Council demands a credible response. It is critical that the Council adopt a resolution creating an international monitoring and accountability mechanism to address ongoing abuses as a matter of urgency,” said HRW in a ,statement.
Another organisation monitoring the Taliban’s oppression of Afghan women journalists is the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). The committee’s Asia programme coordinator Steven Butler said the Taliban should allow journalists to “work safely without interference”.
This was after the Taliban barred two female journalists employed by the public broadcaster Radio Television Afghanistan from working in mid-August – including Shabbham Dawaran.
“Stripping the public media of prominent women news presenters is an ominous sign that Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers have no intention of living up to their promise of respecting women’s rights, in the media or elsewhere,” Butler said in a CPJ, statement.
Afghanistan already ranks low on the 2021 ,World Press Freedom Index at 122 out of 180 and its status is marked as red. That means the country’s approach to freedom of expression is classified as “bad” or “very bad”. Among many challenges hindering an independent and free press in Afghanistan, RSF notes that women are targeted in the dissemination of propaganda hampering an independent press.
“Despite resisting, women journalists continue to be vulnerable in a country where they are among the leading targets of fundamentalist propaganda, which circulates widely in several regions.” said a ,regional analysis by RSF.
Taliban threaten women reporters
When the Taliban took over Kabul following the collapse of the US-backed Afghanistan government, several women reporters in the country said they had received threatening calls from the Taliban.
“In the last 24 hours, our lives have changed and we have been confined to our homes, and death threatens us at every moment,” said an Afghan woman anchor and political show host in an ,interview with The Guardian.
CPJ has ,recorded continuous home raids of women Afghan journalists, calling for the Taliban to allow the media to operate freely and openly without fear of reprisal. This was after many journalists went into hiding in fear of Taliban militant raids.
“CPJ calls on the group to stand by its public commitment to allow free and independent press to guarantee that all journalists are able to work safely and without interference,” it said in a ,statement.
Afghan women defend their freedoms
Afghan Women in the media are being denied access to work offices and studios, some have fled in fear of attacks. These are some attempts to silence them.
“This younger generation is saying I’m not going to go back. They’re very determined, a force to be reckoned with,” said Barr in an ,article.
Over the years women have joined public life, enrolling in universities, travelling freely and have brought news to the people of Afghanistan as well as the international community, however as the Taliban sweep into power, gender policies and women’s rights are under threat.
“Though the Taliban said they will respect women’s rights ‘within Islam’, this leaves much to interpretation and evidence is mounting of diminished freedoms” reported TIME in, an ,article by Afghan journalist Zahra Nader and ,The Fuller Project special projects editor Amie Ferris-Rotman.
Partnerships have helped
Women in Afghanistan have partnered with international media to voice their plight and drive narratives reflective of women in Afghanistan.
A young Afghan woman who has been displaced, now living in Northern Europe said in a Media Diversity Institute ,article that “women need to appear in the media, in the community, in the society. They have to be treated the same as men. The role of the women in the media helps the development of Afghanistan.”
Afghan journalist and Founder of Rukhshana Media in Zahra Joya in an ,article on Optimist Daily said: “Female journalists face even more risk because of the issues they cover and their public role. This will only become worse as the Taliban advances […] female journalists are forced to hide their work and use pseudonyms to protect their true identities”.
,Rukhshana Media is an Afghanistan online platform for female journalists to publish stories, experiences and struggles of Afghanistan women.
Afghan women remain resilient, reporting on the ground showing unwavering fierce defiance.
“Afghan female journalists interviewed members of the Taliban live on television and in open air. Women also led protests in Kabul, draping themselves in the black, red and green colours of the Afghan national flag,” ,reported Rukshana Media and The Fuller Project.
Defending their hard-won gains in the 20 years since the Taliban last ruled, women and women journalists of Afghanistan are putting up a fight for their freedoms.
“If the Taliban do not kill women like me who have worked for many years and raised our voices, if we are forced to stay at home and lose our independence we are dead anyway,” award-winning journalist Maryam Nabavi wrote in an, article.
While Afghan women show resistance and resilience, Barr called this a “really agonising moment” for all Afghan women.
“While others can work underground, it’s not the same for journalists who bring issues into the public domain,” she said.