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Afghan women’s radio

Tuesday 8 March 2016, by SIGNIS

Kunduz, March 8th, 2016 (Wbal). Six months ago, there was a Taliban assault in Kunduz. As a result, Zarghona Hassan, a lifelong activist and the founder of a radio station devoted to women’s rights, had to flee. Now she is back and ready to go on air again.

In Afghanistan, where the vast majority of women are illiterate and largely confined to their homes, many women listen to radio. The U.N. Development Program says Shaesta reached up to 800,000 people. Radio Shaesta - Pashto for "beauty" - had sought to educate women about their rights and address taboo subjects like reproductive health and domestic violence. Subjects such as forced marriage or activists women were covered.

Hassan knows that her radio station has had a huge impact on women: “We have had an enormous impact on the lives of women, raising their awareness of their rights, of what they can achieve, encouraging women to take part in politics, to vote and to put themselves forward for provincial council seats". She added: "I’ve met illiterate women weaving carpets with the radio on because they can listen and it doesn’t interrupt their work. I once met a farmer out in his field who had a radio hooked over the horn of one of his cows."

However, the Taliban, who espouse a harsh version of Shariah law, view her and other women’s rights activists as purveyors of Western influence who threaten the country’s moral fabric. She has received more death threats than she can count, one of which even specified an exact date. So when the insurgents stormed into Kunduz on Sept. 28, she knew she had to run. The Taliban held Kunduz for three days, during which they looted businesses and hunted down activists and journalists. Afghan forces backed by U.S. airstrikes pushed them out more than two weeks later, but by then the militants had looted Shaesta and burned it to the ground, along with another radio outlet run by Hassan that was oriented toward youth.

Now, six months later, she has returned to Kunduz, and Shaesta has come back on air in time for International Women’s Day on March 8. She was able to rebuild the station with a $9,000 grant from the UNDP, which said it hopes to encourage a "courageous voice for change."

"Women’s rights are a key lever toward improving the lives of the entire community," said UNDP country director Douglas Keh. "When women and girls have the same opportunities (as men and boys) in education, and the same economic opportunities, society as a whole benefits."

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