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Thriving Media Market To Drive Progress On Afghan Women’s Rights

U.S. -- Afghan journalist Najiba Ayubi attends TheWrap's Women's Breakfast at Montage Beverly Hills in Beverly Hills, California, October 30, 2013
U.S. -- Afghan journalist Najiba Ayubi attends TheWrap's Women's Breakfast at Montage Beverly Hills in Beverly Hills, California, October 30, 2013

Najiba Ayubi has been a leading voice in independent Afghan media for more than a decade. She is currently managing director for the Killid Group, a nonprofit public media initiative overseeing some of the country’s most popular print publications, as well as eight radio stations with an estimated 12 million listeners. She is a recipient of the 2013 International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award and was named a Reporters Without Borders Information Hero in 2015.

Ayubi has been subjected to numerous threats and attacks, including by government officials, in retaliation for her reporting on politics and women’s rights.

Mustafa Sarwar of RFE/RL’s Afghan Service, known locally as Radio Azadi, spoke with Ayubi as part of the broadcast series “Women Leaders,” in which he interviews Afghan women across professions who are bravely challenging barriers. The following excerpts are taken from the interview, which initially aired in Dari for Afghan audiences on May 6, 2014.

Radio Azadi: What has been the impact of the Killid Group's publications and radio broadcasts on Afghan society?

Najiba Ayubi: In every society, especially a society like Afghanistan's that has been through decades of war and conflict, the role of the intellectual is crucial. The Kallid Group has made a positive contribution in this sense since the fall of the Taliban. Our group was among the first publishing companies to effectively provide news throughout the country. We later formed Mursal Weekly and Sepida magazines. Over the course of 11 years of production we started a new publication or radio station every year. I would attribute Killid’s success to the strategic move to produce local and national news only.After talking with the board of directors, we decided that it is quite essential for us to concentrate more on local and national news. We wanted to do something positive for the nation and bring live news from government officials and other institutions. We also wanted to use different ethnic Afghan languages from various regions.

Radio Azadi: You’ve said before that in a country like Afghanistan, women who pursue a career in media often face a variety of threats, criticism, and negativity. Could you elaborate on that?

Ayubi: For example in 2012 we reported on an incident in Pol-e-charkhi hospital [east of Kabul], involving two armed men. As a result of that report, I was under pressure and threatened from several officials from the parliament and men involved. [Body guards working for the parliamentarians were accused of opening fire at the hospital] For a whole month I had a very difficult time. I experienced the backlash from all different sides. I would constantly receive random calls and emails criticizing my work.

Radio Azadi: Many fear the hard-won gains made for women’s rights, education, and press freedom in Afghanistan will be whittled away or reversed completely as NATO forces draw down. What is your view? Will Afghanistan return to those dark days?

Ayubi: Considering our history, we still have not really achieved anything regarding women’s rights. We have a critical level of illiteracy, and the rights of women in rural areas are completely disregarded and ignored. In my opinion, the main ‘boom’ for Afghan women’s rights has not come yet. Even these small gains and the gains that we are still fighting for were not attained easily. You have to imagine that many women had to sacrifice a lot in order to gain even a small step in achieving certain rights and benefits. So consequently they fear that Afghanistan might revert to past practices. You need to understand that these women put their hopes in these small steps so, in my eyes, their fears are justifiable. You have to understand that these rights did not appear out of thin air and were not delivered on a silver platter. They were achieved through hard work, determination, blood, and sweat.

With the facts that I have at hand, I do not think that Afghanistan will fall back to its past, for many reasons. First, consider the role of social media and media in general. Today in Afghanistan there are 32 million SIM cards holders and numerous publishing groups that inform people about current events. Many media companies want their listeners and readers to be well-informed, educated, and open-minded. The level of education has increased significantly. Compared to the past, the middle class is larger and stronger.

Radio Azadi: What advice would you give to a woman listening to our program in a distant village right now?

Ayubi: I would advise this sister to first find her life purpose. It does not matter how small or insignificant it may seem, but it is important to keep pursuing that purpose. When you reach your goal, then go to the next step and continue striving. Never give up--always work to get better.

(English translation provided by Furugh Nahib)