The first women’s television station, Zan TV, has just launched in Afghanistan. The TV station, which focuses on women’s voices and women’s issues, has an all-female staff of presenters and producers.
The launch of the TV station comes after a high-profile marketing campaign in Kabul and on social media to promote the channel. Women across the country and the world waited in anticipation for the launch and celebrated the TV station as a major achievement for women in the country. Not long ago under the Taliban, women were not even allowed to work, let alone present or produce media.
Despite advances for Afghan women since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan remains one of the hardest countries in the world for women in the media. Women face both discrimination and harassment in the workplace. But for the women staffers at Zan TV, the hardship will not stop them from voicing their opinions and pursuing careers in media. Ahmadi, a staff member at Zan TV, stated, “I came to share my experience with colleagues here and I am really happy working along with the other girls.”
Hamid Samar, a media entrepreneur who founded Zan TV, realized both the need and the market for such a station. Samar stated, “There has been a lot of talk about women’s rights and media rights but we’ve never seen anything special for women and that’s why we’ve done this.”
Just last month, 23 year old Fatana Hassanzada, with a team of a dozen young female volunteers and two paid freeland designers, launched Gellera, Afghanistan’s first women’s magazine featuring fashion tips alongside information about women’s health and legal rights.
According to the Afghan Central Statistics Organization, 21 percent of students enrolled in public universities in Afghanistan are now women. Hassanzada says those women, women who have now graduated from universities, and even girls in high school are her target audience.
Women entrepeneurs are becoming more common in Afghanistan despite continuing safety concerns. “When you think of business in Afghanistan, most of it is run by men,” said Arifa Paikar, a lecturer and professor at Kabul University. “But recently, women’s recognition is growing, and the international community is paying close attention to women, which makes our work more credible. In the past, the women were left out of the decision-making process, but now Afghan women know they can take part in the political and economic process.”
The Feminist Majority Foundation recently held a briefing for Members of Congress on the status of women and girls in Afghanistan. Portrayals of Afghanistan in the American media most often show war, women in burqas, and extreme violence. In reality, however, women and girls now have much more opportunity to attend schools, universities, and access health facilities. There are also more women participating in free media, music programs, advocacy, athletics, the military and the electorate.
Of course, there remain challenges to women’s advancement. American foreign policy should focus on supporting Afghan women who join security forces, establishing national election fairness and human rights commissions, and increasing women’s access to education, health services, and contraception to provide Afghan women with increased control over their lives.
Media Resources: Reuters 6/19/17; NYTimes 5/23/17; World Crunch 6/20/17; Al Jazeera 6/10/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 5/24/17, 6/21/17