In Kabul, Radio Begum is the only medium that offers access to education for girls

Elementary school in Kabul, the only level of education available to girls. Agency Anadolu via AFP

Since the Taliban banned middle and high schools for girls, this radio, created by Hamida Aman, remains the only free medium providing access to education.

“A firefly in the dark.” With these words Alexia Laroche-Joubert describes Hamida Aman. The producer, head of the production company ALP, can be impressed by the career of her Afghan colleague. Since the Taliban took power on August 15 and the decision to close middle and high schools for young girls, she has been one of the spokespersons for women on the radio station Radio Begum, which she founded. “Begum is a noble title bestowed upon the wives of Maharajas under the Mughal Empire. I chose it to give Afghan women back their nobility and as a tribute to my grandmother, who was named that,” says the founder.

Hamida Aman was born in Kabul in 1973 and was only 6 years old when her family fled the war to Switzerland. After studying communications and journalism, she decided to return to her country after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. “It was a real shock, I said to myself, this is my place.” She then developed several projects in the media field, founded Awaz, an audiovisual production group, and increased trips back and forth to Paris, where she lived with her French husband and their children children lives.

Afghan women banned from sport on video

A symbol of resistance

“In late 2020, when talks between the Americans and the Taliban began, I felt the tide turn. I was very worried about the fate of my compatriots, they would be the first victims. I then mobilized my entire network to set up the NGO Begum Organization for Women to defend, support and promote it,” she recalls. Three months later, on March 8, 2021, Radio Begum was born as a symbol of the resistance in Kabul. Today the team consists of twelve journalists and three technicians. Based in the Afghan capital, the branch is open 24 hours a day and covers more than eight provinces in the two national languages, Dari and Pashto. The editorial line is education and information. A gynecologist comes by three times a week to discuss medical issues and also to give practical advice. Audience members can also testify anonymously. “In a country where people don’t even have enough to buy bread, it’s important to provide access to this type of content,” said Hamida Aman. “The population suffers from a lot of war-related trauma. We therefore call for a psychologist who is available to people for an hour a day.”

Since schools closed, our radio is the only educational tool for young girls

Hamida Aman |

Support and teach

But since the Taliban came to power on August 15, the radio has primarily presented its educational program. Each day, listeners can listen to six hours of National Education courses from fifth grade through senior year. “We invite students to record the lessons and create a classroom atmosphere. These are 30-minute modules per level that we set up with an education consultant,” she explains in a calm and composed voice. “Since the schools closed, our radio has been the only educational medium for young girls. In a country where 57% of the people are illiterate, the power of radio is very important as it is the most accessible medium in the country. 80% of Afghans have one at home, even in the poorest regions,” she adds.

Hamida Aman | press office

Increased repression

Radio Begum seems more threatened than ever in the last few days. If his team succeeds in negotiating a broadcast license with the Taliban, the pressure is enormous and the constraints manifold. Music is banned, men and women are not allowed to work in the same place, the content of programs must respect Sharia law, criticism of the regime is banned, as is reporting on unauthorized demonstrations. “I have just returned from a month-long trip to Kabul and women’s morale is at an all-time low. Everyone is shocked and hopeless, feeling more isolated than ever. Day after day, the Taliban build up new repressions,” reports the producer bitterly, who is looking for funds to continue paying her employees’ salaries.

Persevere in spite of danger

Touched by this story, Alexia Laroche-Joubert, along with several other French volunteers, decided to help him by promoting Radio Begum. “It is a project that I immediately wanted to support because it is concrete, it involves an important action and an important discourse. I admire the courage it takes to keep the antenna up despite the constant pressure and danger,” assures the producer, who has just produced a podcast with Hamida* on the Spotify platform. “She needs resources to convey what is happening in her country. Unfortunately, wars are chasing wars today, but let’s not forget Afghan women, this radio is an open window to the outside world. It creates a bond in the face of the restrictions the Taliban impose on them. Thanks to donations, Hamida Aman hopes to set up an antenna in every provincial capital, in the most remote areas, so that the voice of women can be heard throughout the country.

* “The Voices of Begum”. To listen to Radio Begum: begum.fm To support the radio: supportradiobegum@gmail.com and on helloasso.com

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