Afghan Women Defy Taliban in a City on the Edge

United States Institute of Peace (USIP) – 11 February 2017 – Kunduz once bustled as the cotton-mill capital of northeast Afghanistan. Amid Afghanistan’s 39-year-old war, it is now half-empty, fearful and bullet-pocked – a target in the Taliban’s fight to capture a major city. Remarkably, Kunduz also is a stronghold of Afghanistan’s women’s movement, including a handful of women-run radio stations. So when Taliban fighters briefly seized Kunduz in 2015 and attacked it again last year, they tried each time to kill Sediqa Sherzai, a journalist and mother who runs Radio Roshani.

Each day Sherzai, her husband and a small staff power up Radio Roshani’s FM transmitter to beam their message across northeastern Afghan provinces. With support from the U.S. Institute of Peace, Sherzai and her team air discussion programs, interviews of women, readings from the Quran and call-in shows to contest the Taliban’s violent interpretation of Islam. They urge women to assert their rights to education and a voice in their communities.

“USIP is funding weekly shows in which Sediqa engages citizen voices who oppose the Taliban and who oppose weak and corrupt government,” said Scott Worden, USIP’s director for Afghanistan. “This is an effective, low-cost way to break down the extremist narratives of the Taliban and ISIS. It’s important not only for Afghans but for American interests.”

Women’s radio stations are the most public voice of the Afghan women’s movement, and one of its most potent tools. That’s because they span Afghanistan’s old and deep urban-rural divide, broadcasting directly to women and girls in isolated, patriarchal villages. Of a dozen or so women-run stations across Afghanistan, five are in Kunduz—the product of an energetic, local group of educated women like Sherzai.

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