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Afghan News Anchor Is Hopeful For Women In Journalism

Afghanistan -- TV screens at Tolo TV, Kabul.
Over the last decade, Afghanistan’s media has emerged from the era of Taliban austerity to generate hundreds of print, radio and television outlets operating in the country’s many languages and extending from its main cities to its most remote villages.

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

Reverberations resulting from this year’s forthcoming presidential elections and the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 will further affect the country’s burgeoning press.

For women journalists, the difficulties of working in such a tenuous media environment are compounded by the deeply conservative nature of Afghan society.

Navida Khusbo is a 21 year-old student at Kabul University in Afghanistan and a reporter and news anchor at Tolo TV, a commercial Kabul-based television channel run by the Moby group that has operated in the country since 2004. She spoke to RFE/RL about her life and work and how she views the challenges ahead.

“It was my passion to be a reporter and appear on television. When I first told my parents, they were a little nervous because it is a patriarchal society and traditional values are very dominant,” said Khusbo. “A woman is traditionally seen as a house wife, not a bread-earner. I must prove otherwise. I am a very good cook. I can sew and tailor very well, but I want to be more than just that because I know that girls of my age in most parts of the world are far ahead of me.”

Explaining the strictures that affect other girls in her country she said, “It is common in rural Afghanistan to find instances of young girls who want to pursue studies, and work--especially with the media, but then the family forcefully marries them off. That is a main reason for a soaring number of women who run away from home, commit suicide or at least give up and fall into depression.”

But Khusbo is hopeful. “It is a phase that we have to go through and will also pass. We have to eventually come out of our houses and move forward towards creating a better future for ourselves, for our children and grandchildren.”

She draws support from the positive feedback she receives. “I really feel blessed when I receive some positive and kind comments and messages from the young generation, especially young girls,” she said.

Khusbo also remarked on the encouragement she takes from her mother.

“My mother keeps telling me that Afghans will eventually realize that women make up about 50 percent of Afghanistan’s population, and that we shouldn’t be ignored, silenced or marginalized anymore. We have got to come to grips with what kind of a society and culture we are if we are going to maintain a sustainable progressive society.”

Looking at the progress women have made to date, Khusbo said, “There are more than 1000 women in Afghanistan today who work with the media. Women appear on television, despite challenges.”

Responding to fears that 2014 will bring instability and setbacks, she said, “Things are going in the right direction and I am not afraid about post-2014 Afghanistan. I have great hope for the upcoming elections. I believe women have to stand up for their rights, and make their voice heard by going to voting stations on the day of elections.”
She added, “We should display the power of the 50 percent not only to Afghanistan, but to the world.”

--By Nasima Jalalzai