Nargis radio giving a voice to women

9 Sep 2009

Nargis radio giving a voice to women

9 September 2009 - Until a few years ago, a handful of people had total influence over the way most women in the eastern Afghan hub of Jalalabad should live.


One of the many things women were deprived of was radio. Many were not allowed to listen to radio, let alone watching television, according to local women.

Now things have changed for the good, thanks to the sway Nargis radio has among the local women.

“Women are getting to know their rights gradually. In the past, many extremist people didn’t allow women to even listen to radio. Now, they have no restrictions,” said Faza Noorzai, a newscaster and journalist with Radio Nargis 88.6 MHz, her head fully covered with a white scarf. “It’s a big change.”

Established on 11 September 2007, the radio station, set up by the Shaiq Media Network, has 18 hours of programmes all dedicated to women.

Nargis radio can be heard in three eastern provinces – Nangarhar and parts of Laghman and Kunar.

Nargis – referring to the daffodil-like yellow narcissus flower – is the third radio station – run by women for women to be established in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Nargis has 20 staff – 16 news and four technical staff.

Harsh social conditions and radically conservative attitudes towards women make the Nargis unique from the two others – Voice of Women (Kabul) and Radio Zohra (Kunduz).

The latter two were established on 4 March 2004, coinciding with International Women’s Day, with support from the Internews, an NGO that supports media organizations worldwide.

One thing that is so unique about the Nargis is that none of its staff – news-related or technical – received prior training in their respective fields.

Overall manager of the Shaiq Network, Shafiqullah Shaiq, said the women receive training after they are hired. “This helps in their personal growth too,” said Mr Shaiq, who aspires to become the top media moghul in eastern Afghanistan.

Mr Shaiq, 40, whose father was killed by the Russians during the occupation, runs a second radio station called “Sharq” and a television station with the same name – both based in Jalalabad.

His media network also publishes a four-page newspaper and runs a journalism training centre. He claimed that his documentary on terrorism, education and narcotics called “Black Poison” has sold 20,000 copies since 2005.

“I was living here during the dark days of the Taliban,” he said. “We are very optimistic and my centre will be like the CNN one day. When they [CNN] started, they were also as we are today.”

The problem, he says, is the lack of funds and resources. Yet, the unrelenting Shaiq is ambitious. “I will establish media centres in Mazar-e-Sharif, Kunar and Laghman.”

A news staffer with Nargis, Gulalai Naseri, claimed that there has been a decrease in the number of women committing suicide “by self-immolation” in Jalalabad due to this media boom.

“Between 9:00 and 10:00 am, we air a programme called ‘Life of Women’, which is dedicated to addressing women’s problems,” said Ms Naseri. “The topics we cover are suicide, forced marriage, education and security, among others.”

Other programmes include news, entertainment, jokes shows and drama.

Shahla Shaiq, who is the wife of Mr Shafiqullah, has been given the overall responsibility of managing Nargis.

“We invited more than ten female provincial council candidates in for roundtables discussions during the election campaign period,” said Ms Shaiq. “We are now planning special programmes ahead of the Peace Day (21 September).”

The latest in the Shaiq family to enter the media empire is their 12-year-old daughter, Hina, who is already a newscaster with the Nargis.

The radio has already started broadcasting a 30-second radio spot with peace message prepared by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Nargis was started after conducting a survey among women, who pitched for a radio for women to support their cause.

“Now, they have their voice,” said Ms Noorzai. “We are getting a very positive response.”

Ms Naseri said she got a night letter threatening her life when she visited her home in Laghman about eight months ago.

“I didn’t panic about it and entered the area and spoke to the people who know me very well,” she added. “Some people are jealous about me. Out of jealousness, they did that. There is full cooperation from my family and they encourage me to continue the job.”

Adds another newscaster, Khcola Sadat: “Our purpose is to enlighten the minds of the women. Many people are very happy and praise our role.”

By Tilak Pokharel and Shafiqullah Waak, UNAMA