Gulmeena Yousufzai is a Haseeba Shaheed Fellow with Radio Free Afghanistan (RFA), RFE/RL’s Afghan Service, in Kabul. She recently spent two weeks at RFE/RL's headquarters in Prague to observe a Western, multi-media organization, shadow its reporters, and experience firsthand how professional journalists live and work in Europe.
While traveling independently for the first time, the 20 year-old journalist sat down with RFA's Farishta Jalalzai in Prague to talk about her impressions and her plans upon returning to Kabul.
RFE/RL: How does it feel to be in a country where, unlike Afghanistan, women have freedom and security?
Gulmeena Yousufzai: It feels like home because I believe home is where one feels safety and protection. Here, I feel protected. On my way to work, I don’t think about being caught in a suicide bombing or being harassed by a policeman. Mentally, I don’t feel pressured. I only think about what I have to do.
But in Afghanistan, I always have to prepare for being attacked, harassed, chased, and possibly threatened. I can clearly see how women in Afghanistan are exposed to threats and that we make sacrifices on a daily basis. I pray that one day we will have a country where women will only worry about getting more educated and having good jobs and important achievements.
In Afghanistan, it is not uncommon to hear people say that women are created less intelligent than men, and that women should be disciplined from time to time, and that, especially in the case of going against the will of her male provider--husband, father, brother--she should be beaten. Women's freedom in Afghanistan is largely defined by male decisionmakers.
RFE/RL: What did you learn here at RFE/RL headquarters that you will share with other aspiring women journalists in Afghanistan?
Yousufzai: Afghanistan is a news-making country, so one has the chance to enjoy journalism in a different way than in a country like the Czech Republic, where things do not change much. I will encourage other young women to get educated and learn the English language as much as possible, which is especially important for journalists because it enables us to access many online sources and inform the world about what is happening in our country.
RFE/RL: How do you think the Fellowship improved your understanding of the role of a professional journalist?
Yousufzai: First and foremost, I learned the importance of working in a team of professionals. I understood better that a journalist must remain committed to journalism ethics and to sharing free and well-balanced information.
RFE/RL: Did your time in Europe change how you define your goals?
Yousufzai: Yes. Now, I am very well aware of the importance of education and I am more committed to studying at a university in Kabul, even if it is a private university where I will have to pay a huge sum of money.
RFE/RL: What will be the main challenges facing you when you return to Kabul?
Yousufzai: My personal security, intense poverty, and finding a well-paid job so I can afford to study. Many times, I tried to get into a university for higher education, but I could not afford it because I have always been the "unauthorized" bread-winner for my family, responsible for 10 and sometimes more people. By "unauthorized," I mean that my father and several relatives were strongly against me working, but eventually my father consented because we hardly have any other source of income. For the last four years I’ve been working with different media organizations, but I had to keep it hidden from some of our closest friends and extended family members.