New centre aims to protect female journalists in Afghanistan

By AFP and Staff


An Afghan female journalist works in Herat at the Shahrzad radio station, the second one serving women's interests in that city. [Aref Karimi/AFP]

KABUL -- Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Tuesday (March 7) launched a centre to protect women journalists in Afghanistan. The country is the second most dangerous for reporters, topped only by Syria.

The centre will aim to lobby the government for better working conditions and rights for female reporters.

It will also talk to families to try to change perceptions that journalism is not an appropriate job for women.

"We want to support women journalists both in war zones and within the news organisations for which they work to defend both their rights and their physical safety," said the centre's president, Farideh Nikzad.

Lack of security, prevalence of sexual abuse

The biggest challenges are lack of security and prevalence of workplace sexual abuse, Nikzad said.

"By protecting women journalists, we are defending media freedom in Afghanistan," said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire.

About 300 to 400 female journalists work in Afghanistan, mainly in large cities.

They find themselves caught between Taliban militants and their own families, who often consider the job unsuitable for women.

Four women journalists have been killed by their own relatives since 2002 for this very reason, according to RSF.

2016 deadliest year ever for Afghan reporters

Afghanistan suffered its deadliest year on record for all journalists in 2016, according to a recent Afghan Journalists Safety Committee report.

Thirteen Afghan journalists were killed last year, with the Taliban behind at least 10 of them, said the committee.

In January 2016, a Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul killed seven employees of the TOLO TV channel, known for often criticising insurgents. The militant group called the bombing revenge for anti-Taliban "propaganda".

The centre also hopes to pressure media bosses to combat discrimination.

Shilaa Baheer, a 25-year-old journalist from Balkh Province, said she was forced to leave her TV station after enduring "disrespect by my colleagues". She is now an independent radio reporter.

Acclaim from female reporters

Women trying to build a career in the news media are welcoming the centre.

"We are struggling in the war zone and need someone to help us in these areas," Kabul journalist Najma Zala told Salaam Times. "This is a good opportunity for our women journalists."

The centre's founding sends a strong message to female journalists about the value placed on their safety, she added.

The centre will provide considerable help to women reporters, Wahida Faizi, another Kabul journalist, told Salaam Times. Women reporters are in great danger and need help, especially in remote areas where all women face hardships, she said.

"We ask the centre to help Afghan female journalists ... and to protect them in the provinces," said Faizi.

[Izazullah from Kabul contributed to this report.]

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