By: Payk Investigative Journalism Center
At the end of September, the Taliban took control of the city of Kunduz. The Afghan government, with some help from the international community, kicked them out in a few days. But during this brief time of the Taliban takeover of the city, women were the first targets and once again paid the price for fighting for their rights.
The Taliban had a “hit” list of the women who were working for various governmental and non-governmental organizations. This especially included women who led some civil society and media organizations in Kunduz. Women who were involved in the civil society and media arenas fled the city to neighboring provinces or to the capital, Kabul. These women had received threats before the Taliban took over the city, but they continued their work. In an interview with the PAYK Investigative Journalism Center, Ms. Beheshta, who was reporting for a local radio station in Kunduz said, “the Taliban threatened me multiple times over the phone. They threatened my father as well, telling him to stop your daughter from working with the media and if not they will kill his daughters.”
Ms. Beheshta is not alone. Many other women journalists have moved to Kabul as well. Najia Khudayar, the Director of “Zohra,” another local radio station, is currently staying in Kabul and doesn’t know when she would move back to her city in the north. Khudayar’s radio station focused only on women’s issues and had employed around 20 people, mostly women. After the Taliban took over the city, all of the employees moved to Kabul. Frustrated and disappointed about the loss of her 12 years of work, she said, “the Taliban destroyed everything at Zohra radio station. They destroyed all the equipment.” Ms. Khudayar doesn’t know when she will be able to return to her city and to restart her work as a journalist. “I am dreaming of going back to my work,” she says.
Another radio and television station, Roshani, also suffered tremendous damage. Roshani is believed to be the radio and television station that suffered the most damage during this brief takeover of the city. A member of Roshani radio who did not want to be identified for security reasons said, “Roshani has suffered $20,000 in losses. All of the equipment is damaged. The entire building was set on fire.” Roshani was one of the first radio and television stations in Kunduz to focus on women’s issues and employ mostly women. The member of Roshani believes that because their radio and television channel supported the Afghan National Security Forces, they received multiple threats from the Taliban. The member also said that the Taliban had even placed a bomb in front of their house, adding “luckily it didn’t cause any fatalities.”
It was not only women who were involved in the public sphere that suffered. Young girls, who make up 40% of the student body in Kunduz, were not able to attend schools. The students missed three weeks of their education and it has only been a week since they have been back to school. The spokesperson of the Department of Education in Kunduz province says that “70% of the students and teachers are now back to their schools.”
Those who were staying at the protection houses (shelters) for women also had to leave the city. According to a member of the house, 70% of the women in shelters were also sent to Kabul. The Taliban referred to the women staying in the shelters as “sluts, whores, immoral, who are not wanted.” Women staying in the shelters had received threats before, too.
The Taliban does not want women to be seen publicly or be involved in social and political life. Women working in the media are a big threat to the Taliban because they speak against the oppression of the Taliban and their reactionary ideology. Women leaving their houses due to abuse are considered “whores and immoral” because they refuse to submit to the oppression from their husbands and other male members of the family.
In addition to women and women’s institutions, the media and journalists in this northern city were also the first targets of the Taliban. The Taliban did not only attack the different media outlets offices and equipment, but also threatened the journalists. In a statement by the head of the Information and Culture Department in Kunduz, Obaidullah Niazi mentioned that “prior to the Taliban takeover of the city; there were more 100 journalists working for the local, national and some international outlets.” Now most journalists have moved to other provinces and have not yet moved back to Kunduz city. During the Taliban time, there was only one radio operating in Kabul and only broadcasting the Taliban propaganda messages.