By: Sherin Yousfi
Afghan women are being asked to leave workplaces that are outside the remit of the Taliban’s ban on women working for aid agencies.
The decree stopping women from working for local and international NGOs three weeks ago was widely condemned by the international community, with major aid organizations suspending operations in Afghanistan.
Women working for media companies in Kabul say they are also being fired from their jobs as a consequence. A number of female journalists told Rukhshana Media that in the past few weeks, female workers have simply been told not to come to work until further notice. Some have also been requested not to discuss it publicly or with the media. They say women’s programming is also being reduced.
In this report, the journalists have requested anonymity for themselves and their workplaces out of fear of reprisal.
Yasamin Babar, 25, is a reporter for a private radio station in Kabul. She was a news anchor for at least four years. One night, not long after the Taliban decree on NGOs, herself and three female colleagues were asked not to return to the office.
“Our manager called us at night to tell us we are not allowed to come to work the next day until the situation becomes clear. I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say,” she says.
“The Taliban has not considered the situation of women like me, who can’t even get bread to eat if I don’t work.”
After Yasamin’s father died two years ago, she became the sole breadwinner of her family of six. While she has tried to apply for other jobs since losing her job, she has been unsuccessful. She believes no one wants to employ women due to Taliban restrictions.
After the Taliban regained power in August 2021, the presence of women in the media nosedived. According to last year’s Reporters Without Borders report, out of about 700 journalists, only 100 women journalists were working in the media. While there is no official data available, journalists in Kabul say anecdotally that number has decreased even more.
Media companies are also feeling the pressure with the Taliban restricting publishing and broadcasting content, including bans on foreign TV shows, music, and commercial advertisements with images of women. The Taliban have also regularly visited the offices of networks.
The Taliban also imposed restrictions on female news anchors in December 2021, ordering that they should not appear on television without covering their faces with the niqab or a face mask.
Yasamin says that although she was afraid of the presence of the Taliban in her office and the strict rules that made working conditions difficult for her, she wanted to keep working to feed her family.
Spozhmai, 26, has also recently been fired from her job at a radio station. For the past three years, she has presented political and social programs on private radio based in Kabul.
“Recently, with the new Taliban’s decree, we all (female staff) became unemployed,” she says. This is despite the fact that male and female journalists were segregated at work, she adds.
Even before the NGO work ban, Spozhmai says the Taliban’s behaviour towards female journalists was humiliating and oppressive. When she tried to report on a conference a month ago, the Taliban would not let her to enter.
“They told me, ‘Bring your recorder. We will record the program for you. But you should not go inside.’ When I asked for information, they replied that they don’t talk to women.”
Fereba Popalzai has been homebound since the Taliban’s NGO decree, despite being a working journalist. For six years, Fereba has worked in several media, including private radios and online media in Kabul, and for a year after the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban, she worked as a program producer in one of the private radios in Kabul.
“It’s hard to even imagine not having any source of financial income. Suddenly, my husband and I became unemployed and now we don’t understand how to pay my son’s school fees or how to pay the rent at the end of the month,” she says.
The impact of the Taliban’s return to power on women in media has been even more acute in the provinces. According to journalists based in the provinces, there are almost no active female journalists anymore.
The Taliban’s Department of Information and Culture has recently said that it is turning its attention to media outlets whose managers are based outside the country.
Abdul Haq Hemad, the Taliban’s media monitoring director, said on Monday January 2 that a decision will be issued regarding the fate of the media that propagate against their regime whose managers are abroad. He said a decision has been made and is awaiting the court’s approval.
Rukhshana Media contacted a large number of media officials in Kabul, but none were willing to comment on the widespread dismissal of their female employees.
Only one editor-in-chief, who asked to remain anonymous, said that the media organizations are struggling under the oppressive rules.
“We cannot support the women journalists, even if we wanted to. The Taliban come to the office at least once a week to check on us,” he says. “They point out if a female employee’s dress is too short, and say she has disobeyed Islamic law and should be fired. When one of our female employees is humiliated and insulted in front of other colleagues, it is painful for all colleagues,” he says.
He added that the Taliban’s restrictions and threats have been so great that he expected in a few months many media outlets and networks will stop their activities.