What you need to know:
- The terror the Taliban continue to unleash on women is horrifying.
- Women who protest against their brutal rule are beaten up, regardless of whether they are pregnant or not.
- Ms Joya runs an online news agency where she publishes stories in Persian and English languages, highlighting the brutality of the Taliban on women and girls.
A mention of Afghanistan scares the living daylights out of anyone. The terror the Taliban continue to unleash on women is horrifying.
Women who protest against their brutal rule are beaten up, regardless of whether they are pregnant or not. They are arrested for disobeying or disrespecting their husbands, or merely escaping from domestic violence. Their husbands or fathers are also arrested for failing to tame their wives or daughters.
The environment for women and girls in this Islamic country is simply hostile and dangerous for their survival.
The hard-line Islamist rulers have controlled nearly all aspects of women and girls lives; from banning girls from middle and high school, and university education, to limiting their solo travel to 72km. They have also ordered ordering women to wear head-to-toe burqa in public.
Failure to adhere to the edict, draws a heavy punishment on the male members of her family. Her father or closest male relative would be imprisoned or fired from government jobs.
The injustice keeps Zahra Joya awake.
“I can’t be at peace until the Taliban lifts all restrictions against women and girls,” said Ms Joya, the Afghanistan journalist when I met her in Geneva, Switzerland on March 31, 2023.
She was among 17 human rights journalists selected by Universal Rights Group to attend a media engagement programme funded by Permanent Mission of Denmark to the United Nations in Geneva.
Her firm resolve to consistently tell the unimaginable and horrendous Taliban injustices against women and girls earned her a place in the programme.
The programme brought together print, broadcast and digital journalists from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Brazil, Colombia, Kosovo, Vietnam, Malawi, Nigeria, and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ms Joya runs Rukhshana Media, an online news agency she founded in November 2020.
Here, she publishes stories in Persian and English languages, primarily highlighting the brutality of the Taliban on women and girls.
The Taliban took over Afghanistan’s administration in August 2021, after overthrowing Ashraf Ghani's government.
Small hotel room
The seizure of power was bloody, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Ms Joya is lucky to have been among 400 Afghans who were evacuated by the United Kingdom government from the capital Kabul.
She left behind her team of 10 journalists including seven women and three men, whom she said are working under “extremely difficult circumstances.”
She now lives in London and runs her news agency from her “small hotel room.”
“Before the terrorists took over, journalists enjoyed media freedom. That’s why I managed to start my news agency. That can’t happen at the moment. A woman can’t dare make such a move. They will imprison you and prison is real hell for women,” she said.
“I’m always worried about my team. They have to gather news in secrecy. A Taliban will arrest them should they find them interviewing people in public. I can’t even use their real names in the by-lines for fear of the terror they would unleash on them,” she said.
One of the stories she has published about Sajeda* tells of the real terror of the Taliban on women.
Sajeda, a pseudonym given to the woman to protect her, had participated in protests against the Islamist group’s extremist leadership.
The Taliban then raided her home, and beat her up that she lost her five-month pregnancy.
Later, she was imprisoned and witnessed violent abuse of women in the cells including beatings and being taken away at night and brought back after midnight to take a bath. The women would not share what happened to them but defence lawyers said they would be raped.
Even though she is amplifying the voices of women and girls miles away, she has little faith that they will breathe a sigh of relief any time soon.
“There is no hope! The international community forgot about Afghanistan. The power to bring change in our country lies in the hands of Afghans,” she said.
“As a journalist, I’m working hard to amplify the voices of the people. There are also different groups in politics and socio-economics working towards bringing change in our country.”