The findings of the Female Journalists Support Center in Afghanistan indicate that in recent years, particularly in the past two years, the presence of women journalists in media outlets has been decreasing day by day in the country. This is more tangible in provinces. The spreading out of war and an increase in the level of insecurity are the main reasons behind the reduction. Female journalists are more prone than male journalists to insecurity both in their work place as well as outside of their work.
The findings of the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ) is based on 74 interviews conducted with national and local media outlets (29 TVs, 35 radio stations, 4 news agencies, 6 print media such as newspapers, monthlies and magazines) and four journalists support centers or associations that includes the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee , AJSC, support Open Media in Afghanistan (NAI), Afghanistan’s Journalists National Union, ANJU and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA). We believe that these national and local media outlets represent the whole media outlet community in Afghanistan. A total of 1037 women work in these organizations and out of this number, 474 of them are professional journalists. The findings confirm that Kabul, Herat and Balkh are the main hubs of journalists. Most of these women (150) journalists work in the Moby Group followed by 140 women journalists working with National Radio and Television, 55 women journalists work with Ariana Network, 54 women with Zan Tv ,50 women with Bano Radio and Television, 40 women with Killid Group, 40 with Shamshad Radio and Television and 38 with Khurshid Television.
The Data and Sources of Women Journalists figures
Keeping in view the problems and the increasing reduction of women journalists in Afghanistan, the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ) has set out as one of its main tasks to present, to whatever extent possible, a complete data on women journalists in Afghanistan. The absence of official data is one of the flaws for the newly established democracy in the country. The importance of the release of the data on women journalists in the country helps with knowing the exact numbers and it is also considered as the first step towards recognizing the problems they are faced with at their work place and society and to know their demands.
the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ) did its best to collect and analysis data through conducting direct and indirect interviews with officials at the Ministry of Culture and Information, the directors and owners of media outlets and journalists support societies as well as using Nai Media Directory. Nai’s Media Directory is considered to be the only available data source on the number of journalists.
Farida Nekzad, the director of the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ), says: “So far no data on the number of women journalists and those who work with the media outlets in Afghanistan has been officially released by any government ministry, including the Ministry of Culture and Information, nor by any other organizations. CPAWJ took the initiative to obtain and release accurate data on the number of women journalists through various channels. We know that the given data is not complete and it is a minor step towards this goal and hereby we request all those journalists and societies which work in support of journalists to help with completing the data.”
The main institution that should have data about the number of journalists, is the Ministry of information and Culture. However, Said Hussain Fazil Sancharaki, the Deputy Minister of Publication in the Ministry of Information and Culture says: “The Publication Department has prepared a list of female directors of media outlets, but it lacks data about the number of all women journalists. The Ministry of Information and Culture is determined to develop and execute a plan with regards to this.”
Najiba Muram, the Director of Publication of the Ministry, while confirming the list of women directors and owners of the media outlets says: “This list was prepared in 1382 and so far it has not been reviewed and updated and a great number of these media outlets have either stopped working or been dissolved.” She says one of the main reasons for the absence of the data is lack of cooperation of heads of the media outlets. She says: “we have sent out letters to the heads of the media outlets and asked them to give the number of their women journalists in their organizations to the ministry, but so far none of them have replied to the letter.”
This list cannot be used as a reliable current source for data in Afghanistan as it is not up-to-date. The other existing source is the Media Directory which was prepared by Nai. Talking about the Media Directory in Afghanistan that is consisted of a list of all media outlets in every Afghan province and includes a list of the female journalists who work with these organizations, Mujeeb Khilwatgar, the Executive Director of Nai, says: “This guide was published in 1390 and 1392, but since then it has been made available on the Nai website and was last updated in 2016.” The data in this guide, from the beginning up to now, indicate the establishment of 50 media outlets including 10 radio and two television stations, but the data also show that in the last four years 170 media outlets were closed down.
The figure, about women journalists, given to the media by the Nai Media Directory is 2,172. But according to Mujeeb Khilwatgar, the latest survey which they conducted in March 2017 (Hamal 1396), indicates that a maximum of 12,000 people has been employed all over Afghanistan by media outlets in various departments. Out of this number, a total of 1,800 to 2,000 are women journalists. He says the number of women journalists in Kabul has increased.
Talking about the number of women journalists in the media outlets, Fahim Dashty, the Executive Director of Afghanistan’s Journalists National Union, , says:” There is a general believe that a total of 12,000 people work with the media outlets and this includes journalists and those who work with the media. According to this estimation, about 25 percent of this figure is female. When we look at the number of female members of the union, it confirms this figure because the union has 2,000 members and more than 450 of them are females.” He adds: “There is no such figure to indicate that how many of those who work with the media outlets are journalists and how many work in other departments.”
The findings of the Centre for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ) confirm an increase in the number of women journalists working with media outlets in Kabul. According to the data collected since late Sawr 1396, a total of 1037women work directly or indirectly in various parts of the media. Based on the classification, which has been done by this center, more than 70 percent of women work with television stations, 17 percent with radio stations and the remaining 13 percent work either with the print media or news agencies.
Most of the women journalists who work with television stations are in Kabul city. According to this data, 474 of them work in the production of the news and reporting and the rest work in the areas such as news reading, dubbing, entertainment, admin and finance, security and make up. The majority of them work in Kabul (793), followed by Herat (68) and then Balkh (60).
Women Journalists Victims of War and Violence
The findings of the CPAWJ indicate that insecurity followed by war and then social problems are the main causes of reduction in the number of and restriction for Women journalists in Afghanistan. Many Women journalists gave up their jobs due to increasing threats. As many as 6 female employees of media outlets were killed in 1395 and 1396. All journalists’ rights support organizations confirm that the level of violence against Women journalists is much higher in comparison to their male colleagues. Women journalists are faced with verbal and physical abuse and violence on the streets and while carrying out their work, interviewing, reporting or even in their work place. Unfortunately, there is no any law or organization to assess such violations.
Rahimullah Samander, the Director of Independent Journalists Association of Afghanistan, while confirming the annual report (2017) of the state of freedom of expression and safety of journalists of this association, says: “In some provinces, such as Uruzgan, Badakhshan, Panjshir, Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Zabul, Sari Pul, Samangan, Ghor, Kapisa, Kunar, Laghman, Logar, Maidan and Wardak, Nuristan, and Nemroz, Women journalists do not have physical presence and activity. In some provinces, such as Logar and Maidan Wardak only two Women journalists work with two media outlets and they work from Kabul. In some other provinces, like Kandahar, Nangarhar, Helmand, Ghazni, Badghis, Faryab, Takhar and Baghlan, the number of women journalists is very low and their activities are limited to audio and photographic media within the studios and offices of the media outlets.”
The findings indicate that in the past two years more than 100 Women journalists have left their work and some of them even escaped their provinces such as Herat, Parwan, Badakshan, Kuduz, Kandahar, Bamyan, Takhar, Khost, Maidan Wardak, Logar and Ghor, for Kabul due to insecurity. In the western provinces of Ghor and Badghis Women journalists do not have physical presence in the media. The heads of Nariman Radio Station in Badghis and Radio Feroz in Ghor accept that Women journalists cannot work with media due to insecurity and the ruling traditional culture and there are some exceptions when they sometimes extend their support remotely. Ghor is one of the provinces that witnesses wide spread violations against women and where most of executions take place. Women are usually the main victims of such violations.
The south eastern provinces of Paktia and Paktika are among those provinces where, according to the heads of Radio Lema and Da Soli Paigham, no Women journalists have physical presence among their 40 employees. Sajad Shah, the Director of Di Soli Paigham, says that tradition and culture are among the main barriers for women to work as journalists in this province. He adds: “There is no woman employee in any media outlet here in Khost and there is only one who sometimes work with us remotely without physical presence.”
Kandahar is one of the insecure provinces in the south which is not a safe place for journalists, particularly females. There is a radio station in this province by the name of Mirman which is headed by Mariam Durani who is a civil society activist. As many as 8 women and 4 men work in various departments of this radio station. The owner of this media outlet says: “The women cannot go out of the surrounding of the radio station building for covering conferences or other issues.”
Runa Sherzai heads women’s Radio Quyash in Faryab which was established in collaboration with other 10 women. Runa says that currently only 4 women work alongside 8 men in the radio station which has only 8 hours of broadcasting due to insecurity. The station’s coverage is limited to Maimana city.
Media outlet officials in the north eastern Afghan provinces of Badakhshan and Baghlan complain of declining numbers of women journalists and say that female journalists cannot continue to their work without fear due to social challenges and security problems. Ahmad Tamim Hamraz, the Director of Mehr Radio and Television, says that they have 35 employees which include 17 women. He says women work as newscasters and program producers while men work in technical, camera and admin sections. Tamim is of the view that women journalists in Badakhshan are faced with serious threat of teasing and harassments on the streets. He says that despite all these threats women continue to work.
Obaidullah Jahish, Director of Tanweer Television, which is part of Tanweer Group of the Media (Tanweer Television, Radio Sana, Radio Paiman), says that they have a total of 17 employees which includes 3 women journalists. He says because of existing problems and a traditional conservative society, women are not allowed to work at television stations, hence why only one woman appears on the screen.
Kunduz and Nangarhar two examples of Insecurity, and War that Forced Women Journalists to stay home
Recent security challenges in the war-torn province of Kunduz has had an adversary effect on the performance of women journalists. According to the Nai Media Directory, in 2016, about 115 journalists and other personnel were employed by 16 media outlets in this province. Based on the recent report of this center, a number of women journalists have returned to their work after comparative improvement of security situation in Kunduz and continue to their work despite security threats.
Siddiqa Sherzai, the Director of Roshani Radio Television, says that after an improvement in the security situation and the implementation of some projects by Prompt, a number of journalists who had left their jobs have returned to their work with the media. She says that one of the reasons for their return to their job is the stipend the media outlets receive from Prompt.
According to Sherzai, insecurity and lack of safety have caused major challenges for women journalists in Kunduz and despite all these challenges about 15 women journalists work in various sections of the media in this province.
Some women journalists resist insecurity and take risks to continue to their work. Parween Rahimi, a women journalist and director of Radio Shabnam in Kunduz province, told the CPWAJ : “We received several direct and indirect warnings saying women should not work here.” She said that most of the radio stations and the media where women work have been faced with such problems on a daily basis. “But despite all the risks, they continue to their work,” she says. They produce and air programs focused on peace to help with paving the ground for the restoration of peace. But Parween Rahimi says this has caused the Taliban to get angry and threaten them as why they produce and air such programs.
Najla Forough worked for five years with Roshani Radio and Television in Kunduz. She began her career while she was a student and then became a journalist and the producer of roundtable programs. She continued to her work up to a month ago. She told the CPWAJ : “The building of the radio station has been moved from its former location due to security problems and it has become far away for me and my family was very much concerned about me commuting every day. Finally they decided that I should leave my job because the level of their worries was increasing day by day. I respect their decision so I have left my job and have been at home for the past month.”
Sidiqullah Tawhidi, the acting director of Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, says: “The level of interest of girls to journalism has decreased in comparison to the past several years because the salary they get is lesser and that is why they prefer to go for becoming a teacher.”
In the past two years, Nangarhar has been one of the most insecure provinces for journalists and after the presence and activities of DAISH, most families stopped women from working with the media. A small number of them still take the risk and continue to their work. They do not have a physical presence because of the opposition they get from their families so they prepare their reports and send them to the heads of the relevant media outlets.
Rahmatullah Ziarmal, a local reporter in the east and coordinator of the Afghan Independent Journalists Association, says: “The growth of problems and security concerns faced by journalists has drastically increased in the east. The presence of DAESH, economic mafia, bullying, and corrupt high-ranking officials have caused severe challenges for the freedom of expression and journalists in the eastern region.” He says: “Two years ago, more than 40 women were working as journalists with the media, but unfortunately they have left their jobs or the area due to security concerns. All of the women who work with the media are restricted within their work stations and they cannot dare to go out. The national and international media outlets which are based in
Kabul do not have any female representative in this province. There is not even a single women journalists at the Nangarhar National Radio and Television.”
Malala Maiwand, who is one of the newsreaders and a producer at the Enaykas Radio and Television in Nangarhar, told : “There is not only a security problem, but also a cultural and social problem and these are more threatening.” Women journalists in this province say there are a lot of problems and it is not possible for women, especially for women journalists, to work out of the office buildings. The level of threats has recently gone up, particularly after the attack on the Nangarhar National Radio and Television. One of the journalists, on the condition of anonymity without naming any particular person or group, said: “When I was reading the news and contacting my sources and colleagues to get the details, I was threatened through phone because I was following the incident and reporting it.”
Safety and immunity of punishment for violence and crimes perpetrators against women journalists is another cause of the continuation of such violence. Those who were behind the killing of female journalists such as Zakia Zaki, the Director of Radio Solh in Jabalusaraj in 2007, Shaima Rezaei in 2005 and Shakiba Sanga Amaj in 2007 has still not been identified and punished.
Censorship of news about Women in the Absence of Women Journalists
The results of the studies conducted by the center indicate that in the absence of women journalists, the human rights issues, particularly women’s rights, can be left out of attention of officials and society; therefore, as a result there will be no change in the status of women’s rights and the rest of the areas in these regions. When we look at the insecure provinces, we see that the issue of violence is often not covered by the media and one of the reasons is the absence of women journalists in those provinces. Male members of society traditionally do not want media to give coverage to such incidents.
Rubina Hamdard, the Head of Advocacy of Afghan Women Network, says that the presence and role of women journalists is vitally important for advocacy and assessment of the issues with regard to women’s rights. She accepts that the media is more effective in comparison to their provincial offices, because the media has more influence. She points to an incident in Khiwa District in Nangarhar province where two sisters had forcefully been married off to the same man. She says: “The culprit was arrested and has been prosecuted and this was due to media reports. Even the president got involved in this case and sent a helicopter from Kabul to take these two sisters from Jalalabad,Nangarhar.” Also, for instance in Herat, where the violation rates are very high, the media, especially women journalists, disclose many issues which had remained undisclosed and they educate women on human rights, particularly women’s rights. Unfortunately, many female journalists had to leave the country because of security threats and other problems.
CPWAJ is very much concerned about the challenges and the status of working women journalists and also about the lack of safety and security they have been faced with. This lack of safety can be seen by instances of violations, unhealthy and insecure working environments, as well as the discriminatory behavior of the media towards them. Therefore, this institution has been working on a draft of a policy on the prevention of violation and threats to women journalists and the main objective of this initiative is general advocacy for the decrease and eventual elimination of discrimination and threats to women in their work place as well as in society.
This center asks the Unity Government of Afghanistan, journalists, especially the heads and the owners of private media outlets, journalist support organizations, the Ministry of Social Work, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Ministry of Information and Culture and the international community to extend their multidimensional support to the implementation of this policy and consider it as one of their objectives.
CPWAJ does not emphasis on the given data and do not see it as a final complete set of data, but in the near future it will conduct a more professional study with the support of journalist support organizations to establish and identify the exact number of female journalists and women who work with the media.
Women Journalists in Afghanistan*
The activities of women journalists in Afghanistan began when Malika Suraya, the wife of King Amanullah Khan, launched a special women’s magazine by the name of “Ershad-I-Neswan” in the first years of 20th century. The work of women journalists continued by the establishment of a radio station in Afghanistan in 1329 (1940) with the presence of female newsreaders. For the first time, women in Afghanistan got an education in journalism in 1356 (1977).
During the Khaliqi and Parchami regimes and then during the government of Najibullah (1396-1358), the presence of women in national radio and television and government publication sector increased. Most of the women journalists began working with National Radio and Television, the Kabul Times English newspaper, Eslah, Hewad, and Anis newspapers. In 1370s (1990s) after the Mujahideen took over the power, most of the National Radio and Television employees left their jobs, especially female journalists, and since then the presence of women journalist in the media has decreased.
The Taliban regime was one of the darkest period in the modern history of Afghanistan. In this period women suffered the most. The female journalists remained out of their profession, because the Taliban banned television broadcasts and women were forbidden to work in the media. They were not allowed to go out of their homes without being accompanied by a Mahram or a close family member. In this period, the only radio and newspaper was the Shariat and some other government dailies were active with only male staff and Taliban propaganda was conveyed through these channels.
The collapse of the Taliban was the commencement of a golden era in the history of Afghanistan and the media. The media has significantly grown in Afghanistan as a result of journalist and international community supports. During this period, a window of hope was opened for women. Women began working with the media and contributing a significant amount after completing short, medium and long period courses in the field of journalism. Since 2002, at least four female journalists have been killed by their close relatives. Shaima Rezaei and Shakiba Sanga are good examples of these killings. These female journalists are the victims of fundamentalist propaganda who are against women working in society and are also the victim of a lack of protection by government authorities.