Gradually Breaking out of Isolation

Since the Taliban regime was toppled in Afghanistan, women have been able to play a greater role in society again. A radio station for women recently hit the airwaves. Ratbil Shamel reports

photo: AP
Experiences of women activists show that men react quite sensitive to all matters relating to their women and their status in society

​​The first steps are always the most difficult. No-one is more aware of this than Jamila Mujahed, the chief editor at the radio station Sada-ye Zane Afghan (The voice of the Afghan woman). "But someone has to make a start," she adds courageously.

Sada-ye Zane Afghan, a radio station run by women for women, is a completely new departure in Afghanistan. While there were a few programmes for women before the Taliban era, there was never a radio station exclusively for women.

Education and information

"Afghan women have always been at a disadvantage in our society. We want to let them know through the medium of our radio station, that they do have rights," explains Jamila Mujahed. "Most Afghan women don't even know that they are just as much a part of society as men."

Jamila Mujahed, a well-known women's rights activist in Afghanistan, does not want to polarise society, but to inform women. She knows how sensitive most Afghan men react to all matters relating to their women; she gets anonymous threatening letters and telephone calls every day.

But Jamila Mujahed is not the sort of person to be intimidated. "In our country," she says, "it happens that young girls burn themselves to death because marriages have been arranged for them." The radio station for women is the mouthpiece that can be used to overcome this social imbalance.

This is why Sada-ye Zane Afghan not only targets women, but also men; to help them better understand their wives, sisters, and daughters. "We want to highlight marital violence and show them that men and women can live peacefully with one another," says Jamila Mujahed. "Our radio station will also offer educational programmes for the illiterate."

Everyone has a radio

Over 90 per cent of women in Afghanistan cannot read or write. The 23 years of war and Taliban rule have left their mark: enforced wearing of the veil, the closing of schools for girls, the obligation to be only seen in society in the company of a man … these are just some of the draconian measures used to oppress women, whose rights were already limited before these measures were introduced.

This is why Sada-ye Zane Afghan is working with the Ministry of Education to offer women courses via radio. Among others, enlightened mullahs will be hired to give lessons. The idea is to use religious sources to explain to female listeners that it is not God's will for women to be oppressed.

But Afghanistan's first radio station for women is not intended to be a purely educational and informational station; it also offers music and entertainment to ensure that it is attractive for a large group of listeners. Jamila Mujahed and her team of nine women consciously chose radio for their project. "Everyone in our country has a radio. They are inexpensive and can be operated without electricity," she says. "We can reach most women in the country by radio."

A talent for improvisation is required

First attempts to set up a radio station for women faltered two years ago due to a lack of funding. Now, thanks to start-up assistance from the German Development Service (Deutschen Entwicklungsdienstes, DED), Sada-ye Zane Afghan is on air and can be heard in Kabul and five neighbouring cities. But even now there is no certainty as to where future funding for the women's radio station will come from.

Jamila Mujahed and her colleagues work on an unsalaried basis and hope that the advertising income will keep the station afloat. To date, businesses in Kabul have donated about $ 15,000, but that is nowhere near enough.

The matter is compounded by the fact that Sada-ye Zane Afghan doesn't have its own building. The radio station is currently housed in the Ayena media centre. One single room serves as a studio and conference room in one. All programmes are transmitted live; the women don't have a separate room for recordings. Lots of idealism and the countless positive letters of feedback that are sent to the station encourage the women to push on with their concept.

Jamila Mujahed hopes that women's organisations from around the world and major radio stations will come to the aid of her radio station. "And if not," says the courageous radio women from Kabul, "we still won't give up. The road ahead can't be any more difficult than the one we have already walked down."

Ratbil Shamel


Translation from German: Aingeal Flanagan