March 07, 2021
KABUL CITY – Insecurity, threats and targeted killings of journalists, the Coronavirus pandemic and ignoring of the rights of journalists especially women reporters as well as ignoring of freedom of expression in the peace negotiations are serious challenges and concerns challenges before journalistic activities of women in Afghanistan.
The Center for Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ) says of 100 cases of violence that include murder, beating up, disgrace, disrespect, threat, rape and the COVID-related joblessness problems women journalists have been facing since the beginning of the outgoing Persian Year (began on March 20, 2020). The CPAWJ have registered 21 of these cases.
10 out of the 21 cases of violence against women journalists were assessed by the CPAWJ and ministry of interior, five cases are under police investigation, while four other cases are about the journalists who have been shifted to the shelters.
The pandemic-related lockdown from March to June 2020 in Afghanistan, caused more than 20 per cent of women journalists lose their jobs or being sent by their organizations to unpaid leave. Only a few of these journalists got the chance to go back to work, while some of the outlets failed to improve their broken financial condition when the quarantine was lifted.
Increased difference in the peace negotiations with the Taliban is another matter of concern for women journalists, with some of them worrying if their achievements be ignored during the peace talks. They call on the government of Afghanistan and the international community to preserve achievements gained regarding freedom of expression.
Journalists facing security threats
The CPAWJ with the cooperation of interior ministry’s department for assessing violence cases against journalists, registered over 100 cases of violence against reporters in 2020 from which 21 cases are murder, disgrace, disrespect, threat, beating up and rape. These cases were assessed by the CPAWJ and the interior ministry.
The violence include 13 cases of security threats, three insulting and disrespect (two case by police and one by a cleric), two injuries and four murder (by unknown armed men) against women journalists. Six people were arrested for the charge of these crimes and are being investigated.
Malala Maiwand, a woman journalist in the eastern Afghanistan, was killed along with her driver on December 10, 2020 in Jalalabad city, the provincial capital of Nangarhar province. Ms. Maiwand was working for the local TV channel of Enikas and was the CPAWJ’s representative in Nangarhar where she lived and worked.
As the targeted killing continue, three other women media workers were shot dead by unknown gunmen in the same city on Tuesday, March 02, 2021 some two months after Malala’s killing. Morsal, Sadia and Shahnaz who were also working for the Enikas TV broadcaster were killed in two separate attacks while on their ways home from office.
Najibullah Maqsoodi, head of department for assessing of violence against journalists in the ministry of interior, said that police have arrested two on charge of killing of Malala. He didn’t identify the arrested people, saying they were investigated.
A number of journalists and media activists left their jobs or even the country amid the intensifying threats and targeted killings. According to reports, 12 journalists including five women have left the country during the past two months and are living in the United States or European countries.
A number of women journalists consider threat and killings of their women colleagues as a big problem and hurdle on the road to their professional activities, saying that they are losing trust to their job future day by day as violence and threat against them are increasing.
A number of them especially in the provinces have left jobs and stopped reporting and writing after the killing of seven journalists within three months scared them.
Meanwhile, the media supporting agencies with the help from a government-media joint committee transferred more than 10 journalists especially women journalists from unsafe provinces to Kabul as they said they were not safe and there was no guarantee for their security in the provinces.
“My husband and I are both journalists. Taliban threatened us and we needed to come to Kabul,” said a woman journalist from Ghazni province. She said on condition of anonymity that no woman journalist remains in Ghazni now due to increased insecurity.
Some journalists filed complaints in the CPAWJ and interior ministry that they were threatened for life and job in the provinces of Baghlan, Zabul, Herat, Ghor, Takhar and even Kabul. This kept them far from media activities.
Ranginah Anwari, a media activist in the southern province of Kandahar, says that she has been threatened by unknown people since the past month, so she can’t continue working. According to Ms. Anwari, 18 women journalists went missing in Kandahar.
“I have stopped my job in the media for security problems,” said Golalai Karimi, the only woman journalist in Zabul.
Lida Ebrahimi, journalist at the Roshani TV channel in Kunduz province in the north, called impunity as the main reason of violence against journalists, emphasizing on the punishment of violence perpetrators.
Women journalists continue working despite threats and other security problems in Kabul and some provinces.
“I was attacked by armed people two times while I was working on research reports, but I did not leave my job since I love my job,” said Mina Habib, who runs the Roydad News website in Kabul.
Farida Nekzad, Director of the Center for Protection of Afghan Women Journalists, called 2020 as the deadliest year for journalists and media, saying that the killing of seven media workers and journalists including a woman in the recent two months was worrying.
“If the government particularly security organs do not prevent targeted killings, this challenge will put negative impact on the media and freedom of expression and can silence media in Afghanistan,” she said.
Mrs. Nekzad called on the world community especially those international organizations committed in support to journalists and freedom of speech in Afghanistan to pressure the war parties to abandon terror of journalists and media workers.
“The national and international bodies should call for a nationwide and lasting cease fire to make life and work space free of danger for Afghans particularly for women journalists.”
Women journalists and COVID-related problems
The Center for Protection of Afghan Women Journalists has found in its fresh research that women journalists who worked for 300 media outlets in 28 provinces, were sent to long leave due to lockdown (April to December 2020). Only 60 of them returned to their organizations at the end of quarantine or found jobs in other outlets.
Earlier, the Center had researched on 1,139 women journalists who worked for 302 media outlets in 28 provinces. The research which was launched on March 08, 2020, said that 230 of women journalists (more than 20 per cent) had lost their jobs because of the quarantine across Afghanistan.
It expressed concerns of the condition of women journalists who lost their jobs due to the six months of lockdown and most of them found no other jobs.
Roshna Khaled, head of Radio Barin in Parwan province, said she sent four of 10 women journalists to leave because of the quarantine last year. She said that the radio could not re-employ them after the lockdown due to financial problems and security threats. There are six women working for the Radio Barin now.
In Kabul, 35 of 50 women journalists who were fired due to quarantine went back to their jobs. Hajera Amir, a former journalist of the Killid Media Group, was fired because of lockdown. She restarted working as journalist at a media organization in Balkh province in the north.
But the situation in the provinces did not have positive change. Seven women were working as journalists and media workers in Ghazni province in the past, but now none of them is working. Aseya Wardak, the Center’s representative in Wardak province, says that none of six women journalists came back to offices at the end of quarantine leave there and she is the only woman journalist working for two radio channels (Wak and Ghazh).
20 women journalists were fired in the secure province of Bamyan, but 11 of them returned to offices. Women journalists did not get the chance of returning to jobs at the end of lockdown in the provinces of Nangarhar, Kandahar, Herat, Kunduz, Balkh, Takhar, Samangan, Ghor and Jawzjan.
The media runners call financial problems as the major reason of crisis, saying that the lockdown almost crippled them financially as their budgets were secured by the work force.
26 women journalists who were fired from different organizations such as Tanvir and Pasban TV stations, Royan, Choonghar and Arman Shahr radio channels and as well as the Shahr Banu weekly publication in Baghlan province in the north, were not contracted again after the quarantine.
But some of the outlets re-employed their women journalists after the lockdown. The Pajhwok news agency is one of them that sent 80 per cent of its employees to unpaid leave on the quarantine days. It managed to call them back to work at the end of quarantine.
“At the end of quarantine, all of our colleagues who were sent to unpaid leave were called back including seven women,” Danesh Karokhil, head of Pajhwok news agency said.
Basher Ahmad Rostaqi, news manager for the Banu TV station in Kabul says that one of women journalists died due to Corona virus, but seven others went back to jobs in Kabul and Faryab provinces when the quarantine was over.
The Center for Protection of Afghan Women Journalists for the first time held a training workshop titled ‘Corona pandemic, challenges and women journalists’ concerns’ with the aim of life safety for women reporters and relation between their job and the virus. The workshop was held on December 31, 2020 with the participation of 30 women journalists in Kabul.
The Center did not stop paying to its media colleagues who kept distance working during the lockdown.
Women journalists concerned if ignored in peace talks
Some women journalists are concerned if they and their achievements remain ignored in the peace talks, while being hopeful for a lasting peace. They call on the negotiation delegation and the countries involved in the peace process to support the freedom of speech and journalists’ rights especially the rights of women reporters in the peace negotiations and not to ignore achievements gained regarding women in the past 20 years after negotiations.
“We do not trust in the result of the peace negotiations as we don’t see any women journalists in the negotiating team,” said Zohal Karimi, junior at the journalism faculty and intern at one of media outlets in Kabul.
Zia Gul Azimi, journalist in Herat province in the west also urges the presence of a woman journalist as the defender of the rights of women journalists in the peace negotiating delegation.
Somayya Walizada, a Killid media group reporter, says that women journalists were marginalized in the peace negotiations which is an irrecoverable challenge for Afghan women journalists.
The Center for Protection of Afghan Women Journalists launched a call on August 20, 2020 that asked the government of Afghanistan, world community and the countries involved in Afghanistan issues particularly the United States to reach an immediate agreement on the cease fire. The call also offered some suggestions that demanded women journalists should not be limited in media job and their security and legal rights should be guaranteed as well as freedom of speech needs to be guaranteed in the intra-Afghan talks. More than 200 civil society activists, government officials, media directors and journalists endorsed the call.
In another move, the Center launches a campaign on the recent peace talks that the intra-Afghan agreements and reconciliations should guarantee women journalists’ rights and their voices as an important part of the two-decade achievements should not be silenced.
Reported by: Mahbooba Karimi
Edited by: Center for Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ)