From getting threats from terrorists to facing harassment on the streets, it is not easy being a woman journalist in Afghanistan. The obstacles, however, have not stopped many from breaking barriers and telling Afghanistan’s stories through a variety of mass media that has recently become widespread across the country. Among the brave journalists who are paving the way is Farahnaz Forotan. Working for Tolo News, she is one of the most well-known journalists in the country and she is not about to stop. We recently had the chance to interview Farahnaz.
What inspired you to become a journalist?
From a very young age, I loved media. When I was in the sixth or seventh grade, I learned about popular radio stations and shows. I found it all fascinating. I would finish my homework and then listen to the radio or watch television shows. Even today, I find my job fascinating. I am never bored with it and I don’t think I can ever be away from it.
Tell us about your family and the importance of having their support in finding success in Afghanistan.
Family support has been incredibly important for me. I feel indebted to my family for their support because they also stood by me. They trusted me and supported my work. They stood up to others who questioned my choices and my profession, but never doubted me. They encouraged me, followed my work, gave me useful critique and overall, helped me improve. Even today, after eight years of working in media, my parents talk to me three times a day. They ask me how my work is going and they tell me to come home safely. From the get-go I had my family’s support. For example, one of my aunts always tells me that I fulfilled the wishes she had for herself. My family is my support system and my source of inspiration.
how do you continue to do your work despite the great risks that many women journalists face in Afghanistan?
What helps me is my sense of commitment. I try to focus on the impact of my work, regardless of how small it may be, instead of the risks I will face. I think about a time my work has contributed to the world, even if it was just in making one child smile. That helps me remain useful. I also know that unless we risk some things, we will not achieve everything we want to achieve. I’ve also always been adventurous and wanted to travel the world and tell untold stories. I feel this work is important and risks are a part of it. I try to overcome them.
What kinds of stories do you enjoy telling? What stories do you remember?
I remember every one of my stories, down to the details of how I prepared them and the lines I wrote. The stories energize me are those where I’ve seen someone overcome great odds. People like that always strike me with awe and momentarily stop me at my tracks. Stories of like Shakila Ebrahimkhail, a brave journalist who has broken many important stories over the past years, will stay with me forever. I know how much courage it takes to do what she does. Other stories that have stuck with me are the story of Negin Khpulwak, the conductor of our first women’s orchestra, and of the renowned activist Dr. Sima Samar.
How do you deal with sexism in the field of media and journalism?
I deal with and fight sexism like other women around the world. Our communities are largely built on patriarchy and on defining women as second class citizens, but with every passing day I feel stronger in my fight against any notion of women’s inferiority. I deeply believe that the most sufficient way to fight discrimination is to equip ourselves with knowledge, literacy and confidence despite the fact the world may not be built for us.
I think it takes a lot of foundational work to change women’s status in society and a bulk of that work is raising women’s capacity. I find it hard to talk about women’s rights in our community when I know that a large majority of women see themselves as weak and inferior and think their only worth in life is getting married and producing children. Many of us, women, need to change our priorities and realize that we can contribute in more ways than childrearing. Our only worth is not in reproduction. We also need to know ourselves better and create paths for ourselves to be influential in our communities. Truly fighting for gender equality is not without risks. We may face violence, insults, or even death for our work, but we must continue to fight for equality nevertheless.
Many young women see you as a role model. What advice do you have for them?
What an exciting thought… to be a role model. I feel honored at the thought of being someone else’s role model. I have personally tried hard to learn from anyone with whom I cross paths in life. I have actively sought how those who are more successful got there and how they define success and progress. I would tell other youth to seek learning, to believe in themselves and to work hard. It is important to be calm and collected even when you know you are right but you are being attacked or criticized. That is when you learn to grow up and be strong. I want young women to have a plan- a vision- for their lives to think about what they want to change, what they want to leave behind, and what they want to add to the conversations we are having as a society.
In order for women to leave a mark on society, we need to have a somewhat stable society. How do you feel about the future of Afghanistan?
I am never giving up on my country. I am the future. I learn, work, laugh, walk around Kabul’s streets, experience war, and think about life. This is the future. I am glad that I have this future and that I have this home. How can I give up on living and working in this country when I see young kids who wax the shoes of passersby with one hand and do homework with the other? How greedy does one have to be to feel frustrated by this life while we have so much more than the very women we walk by on the streets who are begging for food? I am frighteningly hopeful for Afghanistan and I see beauty and hope everywhere in this country.
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