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A mouthpiece for women
– by Aida Azarnoush
With the ousting of the Taliban, various private radio and TV stations were set up in Afghanistan. Many were funded by former warlords who wanted a personal broadcasting station to promote their interests. The people, on the other hand, wanted something different: entertainment, which the Taliban had forbidden. Serious issues were thus rarely debated on air.
Radio Rabee Balkhi in the town of Mazar-e Sharif in Northern Afghanistan, however, has focussed on women’s issues since it was started in 2003. It is funded by a Canadian civil-society organisation. Apart from news and music, it airs programmes on nutrition and health as well as on societal issues and the challenges women face daily. The station is named after a Persian speaking female poet of the tenth century. She was famous for speaking her mind about forbidden issues – like her love to a man.
Mobina Khairandish is the broadcaster’s programme director. She resents the continuing male dominance in Afghan society. “Even educated men who apparently are in favour of women’s rights, express reservations when it comes to supporting women in their political activities,” she says.
One relevant issue is divorce. Even men who work for foreign agencies are likely to say that it is impossible as marriage “is a choice for life”. Another, related taboo topic that Radio Rabee Balkhi tackles is domestic violence. In Afghanistan’s male-dominated society, it is a great challenge to discuss these issues in public. “Whenever we talk about things like domestic violence, divorce or safe houses for vulnerable women, we are told that we are trying to weaken the basis of family life,” Mobinah Khairandish says.
Radio Rabee Balkhi’s purpose it to deal with women’s daily challenges. The station cooperates with local civil-society organisations as well as state agencies.
In Afghanistan, radio is the most important medium. Radio Rabee Balkhi offers women in the Northern Afghan region Balkh a forum for free expression and demands for women’s rights.
Aida Azarnoush is a journalist and lives in Bonn, Germany.