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Blazing A Trail On The Air And On The Ground In Afghanistan

A 25-year-old graduate of Pashto literature, Maria Sediqi is a reporter with the BBC in Kabul, Afghanistan, covering mainly cultural events in the capital, as well as reviewing books and poetry. Though she struggles with the societal reproach that comes with being a woman journalist, and self-censorship -- a rational response to threats from militants -- she is determined to lead the way for future women journalists.

Sediqi was previously a news reporter for RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan, known locally as Radio Azadi, reporting on a variety of topics, including domestic violence, child abuse, drug trafficking and the soaring incidence of self-immolation among women. Though she cut her teeth as a television journalist, looking back she sees the broad exposure from appearing on TV as a risky start to her career.

“It has never been easy, especially at the start when I was just a green little girl, a new graduate exposed to all kinds of risks,” Sediqi said. “But I believed we had to take steps forward and break certain social barriers standing in our way. I faced humiliating scenes created by police when I showed up to report a story. I believed no one would help [women] unless we did something for our own future, for our own children.”

After she was married, Sediqi was forced to compromise to balance her career with traditional Pashtun expectations of wives.

“My in-laws were totally against me working out of the house,” she said. “But my husband was supportive, so all sides settled for a deal. They agreed to allow me to work, but only where my husband works.” Sediqi’s husband is also her colleague at the BBC.

Despite observing “genuine but fragile improvement” in Afghanistan in its 2013 World Press Freedom Index, the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders recorded a rise in threats and violence targeting journalists and continued government inaction in response.

The threat of reprisals from militants and warlords has, in turn, led journalists to censor themselves. Many avoid sensitive political and social topics because covering them could be inflammatory and put their lives at risk.

Referring to such adversaries, Sediqi said, “These are the kind of people who can do anything to anyone at any time, and honestly speaking, I wouldn’t dare touch on certain subjects that are too controversial and provocative.”

Sediqi counts herself lucky in having a husband who “stands beside” her in support of her work.

Thinking about the choices available to the next generation, she promises the same kind of support to her daughter.

“If my daughter would like to be a journalist, I will be the first woman to stand for her and lead.”

--Nasima Jalalzai