Imagine a newsroom without women, where all staff, without exception, are men. Now imagine all newsrooms in an entire nation with men only, across all jobs, from the reporters, to the technicians, to the editing staff and managers. This threatens to be the future of journalism in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
If there’s anything that the rise of political fundamentalisms worldwide has taught us, it is that women’s rights are fragile. Almost overnight, the curtain has rapidly fallen on Afghan women’s ability to exercise their right to freedom of expression through media that had expanded since 2001.
Ruchi Kumar’s research for the Global Alliance on Gender and Media (GAMAG) found that in 2020, more than 300 women had fled or been forced out of an already small community of female journalists. By August 2021 when the Taliban took control of the country, less than 15 per cent remained. Whether they had spoken out against the Taliban’s harsh treatment of women or reported about relatively apolitical topics such as culture, entertainment and the arts, all women journalists and their families are now at risk.
Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) research found that women were 21 per cent of the subjects and sources in Afghan news content (not far behind the global average) and reported 29 per cent of the stories. Four out of 10 of the women journalists reported on crime and violence, 18 per cent on politics and another 18 per cent on the economy. Forty-two per cent of sources in stories by women journalists were female, compared to only 26 per cent in stories by men journalists. Almost 50 per cent of stories by women reporters clearly challenged gender stereotypes compared to just 13 per cent of those by men reporters.
The data are evidence that not only were women journalists responsible for creating space for girls and women to be heard, they also raised the quality of Afghan news content from a gender lens perspective. This is what stands to be lost if the clock is turned back on women’s rights to the pre-2001 Taliban regime years.
The international community has an obligation to stand in solidarity with the girls and women, especially those working in journalism and media.
GAMAG is following up with women journalists within its network who are in urgent need of support, lobbying governments to issue visas and provide refuge, and creating links to legal representatives.