A shocking news article about a court in Afghanistan setting the torturers of an Afghan woman free has caused alarm among several activists worldwide. The woman was tortured after refusing to be a prostitute. This raises a burning question ‘Is empowerment of Afghan women merely a myth or reality?’ Afghanistan is widely known and appreciated for its rich history, culture, literature and arts as well as its magnificent landscape. It is also a well-known fact that Afghanistan is one of the most challenging places to be a woman. Women’s rights have taken a significant beating during the past few decades in Afghanistan.
Education and awareness are the first steps towards the emancipation and empowerment of women. The number of educated women is a mere 15% of the entire female population. However the situation is not as bleak as it looks. There is a refreshing dawn of hope and promise for the future. Certain women activists have turned to newer ways of spreading awareness among women. Humaira Habib, born in Kabul amidst the throes of war, nurtured a dream of lending a voice to the suppressed Afghan women who had been subjected to discrimination and cruelty. She taught women in a secret school during the Taliban regime. Most families in Afghanistan have no access to TV‘s or computers. Radio plays a major role in educating people in the most remote and impoverished areas. After the war, with the onset of new opportunities and freedom, she decided to use radio as a medium of communication to educate people.
Humaira gathered a group of Afghan women, rented microphones and headphones, and Radio Sahar was born in Herat, Afghanistan’s third largest city. Radio Sahar (meaning dawn) was the first independent community radio station to be run by women. Radio Sahar FM 88.7 went live in October 2003. Today, almost a decade after its inception, Radio Sahar is creating ripples of change in the mindset of women in Afghanistan. The radio station gives Afghan women the opportunity they desperately need to voice their problems and challenges. Afghan women can narrate their stories through eyewitness accounts and also give free rein to their creative juices by reading their own works of poetry and fiction. In addition, Radio Sahar attempts to attract all local people for greater understanding and self-assurance towards their society’s development. Most of Radio Sahar’s listeners are women who listen to the radio while doing their daily chores. Herat was once the city with highest percentage of self-immolation in the country. Thanks to Radio Sahar, this figure has reduced as women are more aware of their rights and identity. The journalists at Radio Sahar report on persisting obstructions to women’s progress across Afghanistan, in particular forced marriages, domestic violence and restrictions on divorce. Afghan women say that Radio Sahar plays a vital role in their lives and gives them very useful information.
Radio Sahar first gained international attention when filmmaker Valentina Monti portrayed the story of Humaira Habib and Radio Sahar in her ‘Girls on the Air’ documentary in 2009. Radio Sahar had made such a wide impact that when a fire forced the station off the air in 2012, the USAID’s Afghanistan Media Development and Empowerment project rushed to its rescue. The Internews technical team played a major role in rebuilding and getting Radio Sahar back on Air. Radio Sahar gives a ray of hope to Afghan women that things can change for the better, even in the most remote and harsh landscapes of Afghanistan.
‘Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.’
– Quote from the movie ‘The Shawshank Redemption‘