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Press FreedomAfghanistan

Afghanistan: An online magazine for women

Shabnam von Hein
January 24, 2024

Brave Afghan women are advocating for their rights under the rule of the radical Taliban. The online magazine Zan Times, published by a group of female Afghan journalists, aims to inform the public.

A close-up of a young woman's brown eyes and thick eyebrows. She is standing behind bars; her eyes are made up, and she is wearing a red hijab.
Women in Afghanistan have been robbed of their rights since the Taliban seized power in 2021Image: Ximena Borrazas/ZUMA Wire/IMAGO

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), women's rights in the country have been restricted still more by the Taliban.

In its December 2023 quarterly report, published on Monday, UNAMA noted that the Taliban has implemented draconian measures against women who are unmarried or unaccompanied by a male guardian.

It has become even more challenging for women in Afghanistan to access work, travel, and healthcare. The UNAMA report states that, in one instance, a woman was advised by the "Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue" to get married to keep her job at a healthcare facility. The ministry argued that it was improper for an unmarried woman to work.

These are just a few examples of many, says Zahra Nader. Nader is a journalist and the founder of the online magazine Zan Times. She started it in August 2022 to give girls and women in her homeland a voice.

Screenshot of the zantimes.com website, showing the headline "I was arrested for the crime of being a Hazara and a woman"
Zahra Nader started the online magazine Zan Times in 2022 to give a voice to Afghan women and girlsImage: zantimes.com

The dangers of working under the Taliban

Nader, 34, lives in Canada. When she flew from Kabul to Toronto to start her PhD in gender studies at York University, the Taliban were not in power. Under their rule, it would no longer be possible for her to travel abroad to continue her studies.

"I feel I have a responsibility to support girls and women in my homeland," she stresses.

Before she left Afghanistan, Nader worked as a journalist, reporting for the New York Times, among others. Today, she is still in touch with female colleagues who have either lost their jobs since the Taliban seized power or even had to flee the country, fearing for their lives.

"For our magazine Zan Times, Afghan women journalists work both inside and outside the country, reporting in Farsi and English," says Nader. "A small group of women journalists in Afghanistan collects local information. It's very dangerous for them to work, and they report on topics the Taliban doesn't want to hear about: LGBTQ in Afghanistan, human rights, domestic violence, or child marriage. There's a lot to report on. A lot of injustice."

Farsi is related to Afghanistan's official language, Dari, and is understood in most of the country.

After they seized power in August 2021, the Taliban banished women from almost all areas of public life. Girls were banned from attending school beyond sixth grade. Beauty salons were closed down. In a decree issued in May 2022, women were advised to wear a full-body burqa that showed only their eyes. Anyone who dares to leave the house without a full-body burqa is beaten on the street and taken away.

2 years into Taliban rule, women have few rights left

"Many families see it as deeply shameful if the Taliban take away a female family member. So many fathers and husbands forbid their daughters and wives to leave the house," Zahra Nader explains.

"Critical reporting, and anything that contradicts Taliban propaganda, is extremely dangerous. Our local colleagues have to be extremely careful. They write under pseudonyms and only leave the house in consultation with us. These women don't know each other and only have contact with colleagues abroad."

Actions, not words

Nader initially used her own savings to set up the online magazine. She and her colleagues sometimes also worked without pay. Almost 18 months later, they now receive scholarships, grants, and donations.

"We want to enlighten people. We advocate for critical thinking," says Zahra Nader. "Our readers are mainly women in Afghanistan, but we also get a lot of hits from other countries where there are a lot of refugees from Afghanistan."

Like many of her fellow Afghans, Zahra Nader is counting on the international community's solidarity and political support for women and girls in her homeland. Countries that were involved in Afghanistan over the past 20 years and that promote a feminist foreign policy should campaign for women in Afghanistan and their rights, she says.

"I don't just mean giving speeches or condemning the Taliban. That doesn't accomplish anything. The Taliban must see actions. For example, they should be sanctioned and unable to travel until they change their misogynistic policies and allow women actively to participate in public life again."

This article was originally published in German.