By Laila Yousufy
Two weeks after the Taliban takeover, when more than 600 women journalists out of a total of 700 did not return to work, Reporters Without Borders warned, “women journalists are in the process of disappearing from the capital. Four months later, out of every five women journalists, only one could continue her work.
Batool Rahimi* is one of those journalists who continued her work, but her five years of journalistic experience had not prepared her for what she is facing now.
In Rahimi’s workplace, a radio station, where newsrooms and meetings are gender-segregated, the clothing of female employees is one of the topics of the daily meetings. “The managers say in the meetings that female colleagues should wear proper clothing; by proper, they mean the kind the Taliban advocate,” Rahimi told Rukhshana Media.
Rahimi and her other female colleagues receive daily reminders that they cannot wear “tight and short clothes.”
Last November, the Taliban’s Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued an eight-point media regulation guideline. They made Hijab mandatory for female journalists. The same Ministry has distributed a poster depicting burqa and fully covering black dress as examples of Hijab.
Supervision of women journalists’ clothing and enforcing mandatory Hijab has not been limited to management’s directives to wear “proper clothing.” The Taliban official has scolded women journalists for their clothes in public meetings.
Last month, in a public meeting, a senior Taliban provincial official insultingly scolded a Rukhshana Media reporter to pull down her scarf to cover her face. “I was humiliated that day because a Taliban official publicly chastised me,” said Rukhshana Media reporter, who asked not to be named due to security reasons.
The Taliban have repeatedly visited the radio station where Rahimi works to monitor and enforce the mandatory Hijab and gender segregation. “Taliban come to say that women should not wear clothes against Sharia and men and women should not work in the same room,” Rahimi said.
Sima Omid*, who works for a television network, says that the obligatory Hijab is not the only thing that bothers her these days. What bothers her more is following Taliban guidelines in her reports.
Omid said her reports have been censored or have not been aired at least three times. “Once, accepting all dangers, I reported on a women’s demonstration, but the editor did not allow it to be broadcasted, fearing it would anger the Taliban.”
Omid, who has six years of experience as a journalist, feels terrible when an editor demands her to censor her reports and edit out parts of the news and interviews criticizing the Taliban. “Restrictions and censorship are unbearable for those of us, who have fought and sacrificed for the freedom of expression for years,” said Omid.
However, the 26-year-old Omid, a breadwinner for a family of six who had been unemployed for two months after the Taliban came to power, said she had to deal with the situation. “Although it is suffocating to work in a Taliban environment and accept censorship, I have to cope with this now to feed my family.”
Humaira Saadat, 23, has worked as a news reporter for a TV channel for three years. Now she says the lives of journalists have become difficult as they are under immense pressure. “Everything is under Taliban control now, and the media is following Taliban guidelines.”
What worries Saadat these days is the lack of security for journalists. “We journalists cannot even walk safely from home to our office; any moment something can happen to us,” she said.
Lack of security is a common concern for male and female journalists, especially since the pictures of two tortured journalists made headlines. They were arrested for covering a women’s demonstration in Kabul.
“Since the Taliban came to power, more than 25 temporary detentions, ranging from one hour to seven days, have been registered with us,” Hojatullah Mujaddidi, deputy head of the Afghanistan Independent Journalists Association, told Rukhshana Media.
In December, a survey by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Afghan Independent Journalists Association (AIJA) shows that since the Taliban’s return to power on August 15, more than 230 media outlets have closed across Afghanistan, and over 6,400 journalists have lost their jobs, with women journalists “hit hardest.”
The survey shows that women journalists have disappeared from 15 out of 34 provinces, and 84 % have lost their jobs.
Rahimi believes that the Taliban policy makes women’s work in the media impossible. “It is difficult to work as a journalist under a burqa in a gender-segregated environment,” she said.
*At the request of interviewees, we have used pseudonyms and have not named the media organizations they are working to protect their identities.