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News | Feb. 25, 2013

Afghan women's rights take center stage in Farah

By Lt.j.g. Matthew Stroup , Provincial Reconstruction Team Farah

FARAH CITY, Afghanistan — Increasing rights for women in society and their empowerment over the past decade was the focus of conversation during a meeting between representatives from Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) Farah and local leaders at the Radio Television Afghanistan broadcast facility here, Feb. 23. This was PRT Farah’s first visit to this television and radio broadcast facility since turning over with the previous PRT in October 2012.

PRT Farah visited the RTA Farah facility as a follow up to a recent journalism skills training course in Farah led by staff from the local directorate of information and culture that built media capacity for both male and female students. In total, 41 students, 20 of them female, graduated from the course at a ceremony in Farah City one week ago. One of the students in the class, Nargas Karimi, is one of five full-time radio broadcast journalists for RTA Farah. Karimi, who is also a second year student at the Farah Teacher Training Institute, has attended many journalism workshops both in Farah and in neighboring Herat province.

“I learned a lot about media and journalism during the training workshop in Farah,” said Karimi. “I actually learned more than I thought I would – it was really beneficial training.”

Not long ago in Farah, in all of Afghanistan in fact, women wouldn’t have had the opportunity to go to school or work outside of the home. They certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work as a radio personality on a local radio station. One person who remembers that time well is the Farah director of women’s affairs, Leiluma Sediqui.

Sediqui recalled a time when she worked as a teacher in Kabul during the Taliban regime. Her daughter was sick and needed to visit the doctor. At that time, Sediqui’s husband was in Pakistan working as a merchant, having lost his position as a local prosecutor under the Taliban.

“I took my daughter to see the doctor, who was a cousin of my husband’s,” said Sediqui. “When he started the examination on my daughter, a Talib was sitting behind me and noticed that I uncovered my face. He wanted to lash me but the doctor stopped him. I quickly covered my face. These were my darkest times in Afghanistan.”

Much has changed since that time in Afghanistan, and while women’s rights and issues are certainly not an afterthought, ideas are changing within the culture.

“I have been the director of women’s affairs for ten years,” said Sediqui. “For the first two years, I didn’t leave my office. When the Taliban went away, women were able to be a part of meetings and participate in society and the government.”

Sediqui believes that there are two main reasons for the culture shift regarding women’s rights in Farah. The removal of the Taliban is the first reason, followed by an increased awareness and understanding of women’s rights. Sediqui noted that public information campaigns and monthly women’s rights seminars in all of Afghanistan’s provinces have led to a shift in the mindset of the people. She also pointed out the fact that each of Afghanistan’s provinces now has a directorate of women’s affairs to continue progress in these areas.

Despite the increase in women’s rights in Farah, there are still challenges. Karimi, who was helped by a male family member to get her job at RTA Farah, also said that not all of her family and friends are entirely supportive. She even noted that someone close to her asked if there wasn’t another woman in Farah that could work on the radio.

Her response, “This is what I want to do.”

Karimi, now 25-years-old, spent her formative years in Iran as a refugee during the Taliban years. Despite the challenges her family faced, she grew up with a dream to be on television. In fact, Karimi said that she used to frequently look into a mirror and pretend like she was a journalist. Her dreams are slowly becoming her reality.

Along with the growth of women’s rights, positions in the media are becoming more readily available for women in Farah, despite a lack of open positions on the general manager’s tashkil – a document outlining the amount of staff he can hire. Currently, another young, Farahi woman works on a part-time, volunteer basis at RTA Farah, producing a television show about children.

“It used to be that I would never get job requests from women,” said Mohammed Hashem Omari, general manager of RTA Farah. “Now I get requests from women to work here on a regular basis. Unfortunately my tashkil is full so I have no full-time positions for men or for women. But, I do make an effort to give jobs to women when positions become available.”

During the PRT’s visit to the radio and television broadcast center, PRT members had an opportunity to watch through the glass as Karimi interviewed Sediqui for a live radio interview, an event that certainly wouldn’t have occurred ten years ago. While many people feel that the coalition’s efforts have been in vain, engagements like this are a signal that change is taking place in key ways in Afghanistan. But what will happen to gains made in women’s rights post-transition?

While many people are concerned that the post-transition security situation in Afghanistan will lead to the loss of ground gained on women’s rights issues, Sediqui isn’t one of them.

“There are some people who are afraid of what will happen [after transition],” said Sediqui. “and maybe security will get worse. But whatever happens with the security situation, the mindset of women and people who have been exposed to women’s rights will not change. Nobody can change our minds.”