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Afghan Women’s Radio Station Back On Air

Afghanistan -- (Illustrative photo) Two Afghan women work in a studio at Voice of Women, the first radio station in Afghanistan to be dedicated to the interests of women, in Kabul in 2005.

Kunduz journalists refuse to be silenced by threats.

Radio Shaesta resumed broadcasting March 8, International Women’s Day.

The station is one of several media outlets in Afghanistan’s northern city of Kunduz, which was ransacked by the Taliban when they briefly took over the city in September last year.

Zarghona Hassan, the founder of Radio Shaesta (which means beauty in Pashto), spoke with RFE/RL Afghan Service journalist Malali Bashir about the importance of women’s radio in the conservative region, where only 15 percent of women are literate and most are confined to their homes.

“We talked about the achievements and efforts of women and gave a voice to women from remote villages,” Hassan told Bashir about the station’s role. “We had a program that explained women’s rights from the perspective of Islam, we discussed violence against women and profiled women leaders from Kunduz province who have really struggled and worked hard to encourage women’s participation in political and economic life.”

When Taliban forces captured Kunduz, Hassan knew she would be among their targets. In addition to bomb threats received by the station, she says she and several members of her staff had been personally threatened for discussing taboo subjects in their broadcasts. But not only programs about women’s rights elicited intimidating messages from militants. Hassan says she received a death threat after a show encouraging greater cooperation between local citizens and police.

“They targeted us to deny us our freedom of speech,” she said.

Following that threat, Hassan hid with relatives for three days before escaping the city under the cover of a burka.

Afghan government forces retook Kunduz just days after the Taliban capture. When journalists from Shaesta and other local and state media outlets, including another women-focused radio station, returned to their offices, they found them looted and destroyed.

With the help of financial support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Shaesta and other Kunduz stations have been able to resume their programs, despite continued instability in the region.

In a panel discussion convened by RFE/RL on International Women’s Day, Bashir said that Afghan media perseveres and “plays a vital role in creating more visibility and opportunities for women."

--Emily Thompson