More than #MeToo in Afghanistan
The #MeToo movement has made it all too clear that even in countries like the United States, the media industry has been at best inequitable and at worst openly hostile to women’s leadership and advancement.
What I saw on a recent visit to Afghanistan also showed what is obvious – in a country where women’s rights and participation in all aspects of society are still marginalized, the media sector has a long way to go.
But there are glimmers – even flashes – of hope. And unsurprisingly, that hope comes from women themselves, leading the way.
Nooria Hamasa is a flash of hope. As station manager for Radio Hamasa in Jawzjan, she sees changes in the women in her community, who are learning through radio programs about ways they can participate in public life. “Those women were not aware of their capacity and did not have faith in their abilities. After listening to radio packages, they have gained the confidence to start working, in agriculture, livestock and handicraft.”
Supporting women in their careers happens inside the radio station, too. Nooria trains women reporters in the craft of journalism and audio production, but she also recognizes other barriers holding back her female reporters. Daily, Nooria picks up and drops off one of her reporters, Shabana Naseri, to help her feel more secure with her job.
“I can see Shabana has now become confident and able to solve her own problems with little help from a technician. Her reports have had an impressive impact and more women are listening to our programs now and also want to advertise on our station,” said Nooria.
Women speaking to women. Women helping women. Audiences – men and women – listening to women. These are steps toward seeing all community members engage with and see their concerns reflected in their local media.
Toward a Gender Transformative Organization
Finding a path to full and equitable representation for women in media is at the heart of what we do at Internews. I’m proud that as an organization, we’ve more officially codified our approach in a newly-released Gender Equity and Women’s Empowerment Strategy.
In addition to committing ourselves to this strategy, we will help our partners, local media outlets, community groups, and information providers adapt their own policies to support gender equity in their work.
In Afghanistan, Internews’ efforts to support women in media is illustrated by stations like Nooria’s Radio Hamasa, one of 17 women-led radio stations in the Salam Watandar radio network. Salam Watandar, a news hub in Kabul and a network of 36 community stations throughout 20 provinces in Afghanistan, was founded by Internews, but is now a vibrant, independent Afghan organization.
The hard work of local journalists has made media one of the most trusted institutions in Afghanistan, but the work remains fraught with risk. In Kunduz, media and specifically women-led media have been directly targeted.
Zohal Nori is a producer at Radio Roshani in Kunduz, another women-led station in the Salam Watandar network. “In 2015 the Taliban ransacked Radio Roshani and the staff fled for their lives. Now we are broadcasting again, though it is very difficult,” she said. “It is really important for us to get as much support as possible so that we can continue to educate and inform women in the province.”
Radio Roshani has recently produced reports on important women’s issues such as women’s inheritance and property rights. “Women journalists face incredible challenges to continue their work, but there are important stories and interviews that only women can cover. Without women journalists these stories and women’s voices are not heard as much,” said Nasir Maimanagy, managing director of Salam Watandar.
These women – and all women in media around the world – need our support. We are a long way from equity in media, but a critical first step is to identify and pursue strategies to elevate women’s voices, ideas, and priorities across media.