An Afghan-American attorney helping refugees navigate the U.S. immigration system, a Canadian comedian of Afghan origin confronting social taboos with humor, and a domestic violence survivor are among the inspirational women of the Afghan diaspora who have been featured on Faces, a new TV program from RFE/RL’s Afghan Service, Radio Azadi.
“People in Afghanistan think those who have immigrated to a Western country or Afghans who were raised abroad don’t care about their country, and it’s not true,” said Faces host and producer Malali Bashir. “Many Afghans in the diaspora are making incredible contributions to Afghan society and culture from abroad, and Afghans inside the country should know about them.”
Launched in June 2018, each episode of the biweekly interview series introduces Afghan audiences to an accomplished Afghan woman who lives abroad but actively engages with Afghan society and culture. Some episodes have also featured Afghan men of the diaspora who have worked to further women’s rights and education back home.
Faces airs on Afghanistan’s Zan TV station, a 24-7 satellite channel launched in 2017 with programs produced entirely by and for women. It is also available on Azadi’s website and social media channels. Interviews are conducted in English, Pashto, or Dari, and subtitled accordingly so that everyone in Afghanistan can understand.
“It’s important that Afghans and their diaspora community connect with each other in order to understand each other’s efforts, struggles, and achievements,” said Bashir. “This was missing from the media landscape in Afghanistan.”
After decades of war and insecurity, the Afghan diaspora community numbers in the millions, with most Afghan refugees leading a precarious existence in neighboring Pakistan. But since 2015, a resurgent Taliban and other militant groups operating in both countries have pushed tens of thousands of Afghans to seek asylum in Europe and North America. The UNHCR estimates that three out of four Afghans have gone through internal, external, or multiple displacements in their lives.
Faces premiered with an interview with Nadima, (who goes by one name, a common practice in Afghanistan), a comedian living in Canada who tackles taboo subjects in Afghan society through a character she created and performs in her YouTube videos. Pateengara Kakai is a cantankerous Afghan village grandmother with outspoken views on women and their role in Afghan society, and a character many Faces viewers can identify with.
“Thanks to Radio Azadi and Malali Bashir for introducing Pateengara Kakai to us,” wrote one viewer on Facebook. “The videos Nadima produces are based on realities of our society. I hope these comedy videos, which unveil big problems in our society, reach villages, especially schools, and bring about a positive change.”
Bashir has also interviewed Spojmie Nasiri, a successful U.S. immigration attorney who left Afghanistan as a teenager.
“Nasiri is a symbol not only of immigrant prosperity, but also an example of refugees making a new home for themselves but wanting to help their fellow Afghans still fleeing war and insecurity,” said Bashir.
Another episode focused on the life of Ramsha Shafa, a famous Afghan emigre singer who divorced her abusive American husband, setting an example, Bashir says, of Afghan women’s resilience and independence.
“I focus on women because I want to inspire women in Afghanistan,” said Bashir. “Maybe they will see the program and get an idea they can implement inside Afghanistan or learn about the projects of the diaspora and they will reach out and try to get involved.”