Despite years of development, investment and progress in the Afghan media sector, 28-year-old Zahra Joya often found herself the only woman in a newsroom. “It was a lonely environment, dominated by men who made the decisions about what news was important and what was not,” he says.
Joya, who belongs to the persecuted Hazara minority, felt that she was being discriminated against because of her ethnic origin and because she was a woman. “There were very few female journalists in Kabul,” he says. “There were hardly any female reporters covering political events or press conferences, despite the stories that affect us a lot.”
Determined to shake up this male-dominated industry, in November of last year, Joya founded Rukhshana Media, a news website that recounts the experiences of Afghan women written by Afghan women.
She chose the name as a tribute to the victims of the Afghan patriarchy and to all the forgotten women in the country’s history.
“In 2015, a girl named Rukhshana from Ghor province was accused of adultery and ran away from home. She was fleeing a forced marriage,” says Joya. “The boy who accompanied her received 100 lashes for ‘insolence’ for the same crime, but Rukhshana was stoned to death. From the day I saw the video of her public stoning, this image has remained etched in my memory.”
News about women told by women
Since its founding, Rukhshana has told powerful stories of Afghan women’s struggle, offering a platform for Afghan journalists. They have written about women’s reproductive health, domestic and sexual violence, and gender discrimination, among many other issues.
“It is often the case that news about Afghan women is decided by Afghan men or journalists from international sections in other countries. And while our presence in the Afghan media is celebrated as an example of ‘women’s empowerment’, not much attention is paid to us and we are not given space to define what story should be covered, “says Joya.
“For example, the Afghan media reports on rape cases, but they never report [sobre] how is the life of the survivors. That is what we are interested in telling, “he clarifies.” Rukhshana MediaWe try to tell the story from the perspective of Afghan women. ”
Dressed as a boy
Joya’s path to becoming a journalist was full of difficulties. As a child, during the Taliban regime in the 1990s, she was forced to dress as a boy in order to go to school. “The Taliban had closed all girls’ schools and only boys could go. I insisted on studying, so I dressed as a boy and adopted the name ‘Mohammad’ and enrolled in school,” he says.
“I don’t want us to go back to that situation,” says Joya. “And this is the raison d’être of Rukhshana. It is my hope, my effort, to build a stronger Afghanistan that includes our voices, the voices of its women. ”
But build, maintain and grow even a small-scale communication medium like Rukhshana is not easy. “Insecurity grows and female reporters Rukhshana they face the challenges of reporting from rapidly changing fronts, “he says.
Since the creation of Rukhshana In the past year, violence and extremist attacks have increased in Afghanistan, with nearly 3,000 civilians killed in the conflict in 2020, according to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. Added to this is a series of targeted killings of journalists, government workers and state officials, for which the Afghan government has largely blamed the Taliban. A report released by the UN in February states that “Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.”
Women journalists are at higher risk of being killed because of the topics they cover and because they play a public role.
In March, three young high school students were killed while working part-time for a media outlet in Jalalabad. In December, a television journalist and women’s rights advocate was shot and killed along with her driver. As the Taliban gain ground in the country, female journalists are forced to work in secret, and under various pseudonyms to hide their identity.
Joya explains that getting money for the project is another of the great challenges. Being a totally self-financed initiative, it is difficult to keep the project afloat, especially as the situation in the country worsens.
“But I will try to keep him alive as long as I can as for me he is a source of hope for many women,” she says. “Afghanistan may not have much, but it is our voice [de los medios de comunicación], and we must preserve it. ”
Now more than ever, Afghan women need a platform to speak for themselves. In a context of the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the survival of Rukhshana Media depends on the help of readers. To continue reporting over the next year, which will be key, he is trying to raise 17,000 euros ($ 20,000). If you can support this initiative, enter this page they have created to raise funds.
Translated by Emma Reverter.