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High-profile Afghan women brave threats, intimidation

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by Sylvie Briand
Sun Jun 17, 3:53 AM ET

KABUL (AFP) – “Women who go to work every day in Afghanistan are heroines,” says journalist Friba Chalkhi Habib.

She knows what she is talking about: the 30-year-old is regularly threatened or insulted, like many Afghan women in high-profile jobs.

The recent murders of two women journalists have underlined the dangers faced by women like Habib, Afghanistan’s first female political talk-show host.

On her programme “Face the Nation,” which has been on public channel RTA for about a month Habib quizzes ministers and legislators with aplomb, also presenting them with questions from people filmed on the streets of Kabul.

The mother-of-three says she is supported in her work by the men in her family. Nevertheless, “to talk politics is to put yourself more in danger,” she says.

“A man told me on the telephone that if I carried on doing what I do, the same thing would happen to me as to two journalists who were killed.

“But I am not scared and I don’t expect any protection from the authorities,” she says calmly and with a smile.

The twin killings shocked many in Afghanistan and prompted international criticism.

Zakia Zaki, 35, the head of Peace Radio and a leading figure in women’s journalism, was killed in her home at Jabal Seraj, 60 kilometres (40 miles) north of Kabul, around midnight on June 5.

A week earlier television presenter Shakiba Sanga Amaj, 22, was shot dead in her home.

The motive for Amaj’s murder, according to her father, was linked to her rejection of a suitor. But the reason that Zaki was killed is still a mystery.

She was however known for being critical of the warlords who have been accused of atrocities in Afghanistan’s decades of conflict, and she had had death threats.

Six people have been arrested in relation to the killing, two of whom are suspected of links with the fundamentalist Islamist insurgent group Hezb-i-Islami.

But the Afghan Independent Journalists Association says those really responsible have not been caught.

“The authorities are trying to hide something. The investigation was not handled correctly,” says association president Rahimullah Samander.

In the meantime a woman journalist with private Afghan news agency Pajhwok, Farida Nekzad, has also received death threats, he says.

“Journalists, men or women, are under pressure. But for women, the weight of traditions, opposition from their family, makes their jobs more difficult and not only the domain of journalism,” he says.

Barred from studying and working outside of their homes under the conservative 1996-2001 Taliban regime, women have cautiously begun throwing back the burqa in Kabul and rejoining the workforce.

But sometimes they are far from being welcomed.

“Women are not respected and the government is doing nothing for them,” says Fauzia Assifi, head of the tourism department in the ministry of information, culture and tourism.

It has been a year since she has spoken to her minister, Abdul Karim Khoram, a former Hezb-i-Islami fighter. “He told me he did not want to work with women,” she says.

Assifi says the minister removed several women who had held director-level positions. This is however rejected by Khoram’s spokesman.

“The minister has nothing against women,” says Hamid Nassery Wardak. “After administrative reforms, most employees have been treated on merit.”

Afghanistan has only one female minister, the low-profile head of the women’s ministry, and a quota of female parliamentarians, the most outspoken of whom was removed from parliament last month for criticising her fellow MPs.

Despite the threats from conservative quarters, Habib does not intend to abandon her new role as political talk-show host.

“If one listens to them and hides from them, nothing will change for women,” she says.

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Written by afghandevnews

June 18, 2007 at 4:27 am

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