Radio Begum, “queen” or “princess” in Persian, is an Afghan radio station that broadcasts in 10 of the country’s 34 provinces to young women who are deprived of school and freedom in a country in the hands of the Taliban.
The situation of girls and women in Afghanistan
In August 2021, following the withdrawal of American troops, the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan. The deterioration of women’s conditions quickly followed, as in that same month, they were forced to wear the Islamic veil (not necessarily the burqa, a full veil of Afghan origin, but other permissible veils were not specified). At that time, the Taliban claimed that education, from primary to university level, was still allowed. When returning to power, the Taliban indeed tried to present a more moderate image than in the 1990s by promising that women’s rights would be respected.
Disillusionment was swift as the first government was all male, mostly ultraconservative, and the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice, responsible for ensuring compliance with Islamic law (Sharia) in the public space, was brought back, replacing the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. The deterioration of women’s and girls’ rights increased in March 2022, as secondary schools for girls were closed and women without a male relative were no longer allowed to travel. The violations continued in May 2022, when on May 7, the supreme leader of the Taliban imposed on women the wearing of the burqa in public, and on May 22, female television presenters are required to cover their faces on air. In the following weeks, the ban on mixed-sex teaching, already in force in public schools, is extended to private schools, potentially depriving girls over the age of 12 of education. Universities reopened with single-sex classes and dress codes.
At the end of 2022, the situation of Afghan women is more worrying than ever: on November 10, public parks and gardens are definitively banned, followed a few days later by public baths and sports halls. Finally, in December, a particularly dangerous measure for the women’s future, and in particular women’s health, was decided: higher education was in turn banned for women. This measure indeed affects women’s health for the following reason. In January 2023, the province of Balkhforbid women to see male doctors. Without women being able to study medicine, there will be no more female doctors, and therefore no more healthcare for Afghan women. At the end of December, the Taliban authorities also ordered national and international NGOs to stop employing women because of complaints about the lack of respect for the veil. Several NGOs, in return, decided to suspend their activities in Afghanistan, in support of their female teams. The regime seems to have softened this last directive since mid-January: the veto on women’s work was lifted, especially for the health sector. Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE International, which had suspended their activities in the country, have resumed providing aid in some provinces with the support of their female staff in the health and nutrition sector.
Radio Begum, a space of resistance and freedom
Born in Kabul, Hamida Aman fled with her parents from the Soviet occupation and arrived in Switzerland in 1981 at the age of 8. After the events of September 2001, as a freelance journalist for L’Hebdo, she worked with the editorial staff in Afghanistan, a country she had not been back to for twenty years, to cover the NATO operation. Upset by this return to the country of her origins and in particular the situation of women, she continues to make regular trips back and forth between France and Iran. In 2021, she founded the NGO Begum Organization for Women to help and support Afghan women. On 8 March 2021, Radio Begum was launched.
This radio is made by women and for women. It broadcasts 24 hours a day from Kabul and covers ten provinces. It provides schoolgirls deprived of education with an educational programme for six hours a day, with six subjects offered during School on the Air, half-hour sessions of lessons given in the morning in Dari and in the afternoon in Pashto, the two official languages of the country. The idea of School on the Air is to recreate a classroom atmosphere, with girls invited to attend the lessons.
Radio Begum aims to be a space of freedom for women, among women. The team is made up of young journalists, but also a gynaecologist, a psychologist and a doctor of theology, who each have their own programme. The radio station also offers fiction programmes, open-air talks, etc.
In order to continue broadcasting in a country in the hands of the Taliban, the radio station has had to adapt, rearrange its work spaces to separate men and women, and even give up broadcasting music. In September 2021, Hamida Aman met with the Taliban’s head of media and obtained permission to broadcast. “They encouraged us to continue as long as we respect the principles of Islam and the prohibition of broadcasting “harmful information” to the regime, which implies that we are not allowed to talk about the resistance” (Hamida Aman for Causette), a condition they accepted. The radio therefore generally does not talk about politics or the Taliban, but when there is news affecting women, such as the ban on going to university, the subject is broached, particularly in calls from women listeners.
In order to survive, with the collapse of the Afghan economy, Radio Begum cannot rely on advertising and calls for solidarity. In order to keep the voices of Afghan women resonating and for a better future for all of them, don’t hesitate to support the radio on their HelloAsso page:
There is also the podcast series “Les Voix de Begum” (in French), in support of Afghan women and the radio itself. This podcast shares the views of women doing the same job in France and in Afghanistan.
© Radio Begum