Radio Quyaash in Afghanistan: female, free and here to stay
An Internet café at Radio Quyaash in Afghanistan helps building ICT and media capacity for women.
In early 2007, Radio Quyaash became connected to the worldwide web following a successful application of UNESCO's International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) with additional financing from Andorra and France. Other IPDC projects in Afghanistan include support to the Voice of Afghan Women radio and Kabul Weekly.
The café provides online access to the station and helps generate income and support long term growth for the radio. Sustainability is a huge issue for grassroots communication projects, especially given the shrinking funds available to media development in the country. The café is equipped with ten computers in two rooms separated to allow men and women to use the facility at the same time. The UNESCO grant also includes funds for training in browsing and Internet-based research, an essential task for media professionals to ensure that their stories are as factual and informative as possible.
UNESCO agreed to support the Radio Quyaash net café to increase access to information for residents of Maimana and to build capacity and confidence in the use of information and communication technology, especially for women.
"Quyaash" means sun in Uzbek. Radio Quyaash, which covers a radius of 50km2, was established in October 2004 with support from the Institute for Media Policy and Civil Society (IMPACS) and Internews. Today 19 women, including seven volunteers, work at the radio which broadcasts for 11,5 hours a day.
'Mirror of Women' is a legal programme focusing on issues such as forced marriage, child marriage and domestic abuse. According to Rona Shirzai, the Manager of Radio Quyaash, the show receives about 10 to 15 letters a week seeking advice or thanking the producers for their work. When the programme started, however, 200 letters a week came pouring in. "You can see how our radio programme has helped to resolve family problems," explains Rona.
It was not easy at first, admits Rona. "People refused to talk to us, women as well as men. They had this idea that journalism was 'dirty' and that 'good women' should not become journalists." The women persevered and gradually built up the community's trust, making them realize that the radio gave voice to their concerns and promoted their community development.
The women also faced problems at home, says Suhaila Saleemi, a teacher at a local girls' school. "One day a foreign woman came to our school and told us about the establishment of a women's radio in Maimana. My colleagues encouraged me to collaborate with her and this woman's organization held a three-month training course attended by 70 women, including me. Six women were selected and I was asked to become manager."
When Suhaila broke the news at home, her husband and his family were so angry that she turned down the job. But she continued to work as a volunteer. She presented the first programme aired by Radio Quyaash and went home nervously to face her family. "When they realized that it was me on air there was a lot of tension at home. I fought with my husband, my son told me that he felt embarrassed to hear my voice in public and my mother told me that I had to choose between her and the radio." Suhaila persevered and while her family does not respect her choice, they do not try to prevent her any more.
Suhaila's story is a common one. Although Afghanistan has seen many changes since the fall of the Taliban regime, and it is no longer illegal for women to be seen and heard in the public space, traditions take longer to change. The courage of the women journalists of Afghanistan was celebrated on 3 May, International Press Freedom Day, at an event organized by Afghan media unions and supported by UNESCO, UNIFEM, UNDP, UNAMA and Internews.
The restrictions on women media professionals also make it difficult for the station to broadcast news. Not only is it difficult for the reporters to conduct interviews or cover events but there is tremendous political pressure from local government officials and community leaders to influence news content and there are inadequate institutional structures to challenge this.
According to UNESCO's regional media advisor, Jacky Sutton, "Media professionals in Afghanistan today are pioneers in terms of legal and institutional frameworks to clarify their rights and responsibilities. Women face the double challenge of asserting their profession's credibility and then asserting their own credibility within that profession."