Kabul, March, 8th, 2017 (RSF). On the eve of International Women's Day, Afghanistan’s first center for the protection of women journalists opened with the help of the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF).

RSF has gone to Afghanistan to inaugurate the center, called the “Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalists" - CPAWJ. Headed by well-known Afghan journalist Farida Nikzad, the center is the first Afghan organisation to be created by and for women journalists. Its aim is to assist and protect women journalists, especially those working in remote parts of Afghanistan, who are more vulnerable.

“The creation of this center is intended to send a strong message not only to Afghan women journalists, but also to all of the country’s women”, said Nikzad, who is the centre’s co-founder (along with RSF) as well as its director. “We want to support women journalists both in war zones and within the news organisations for which they work, to defend both their rights and their physical safety. To that end, we need the government and media owners to commit to do their part in what is a key battle for Afghan society”.

The center aims to combat all of the various forms of social and material pressure that women media workers face in Afghanistan. It also aims to be a forum where women journalists, especially those operating in remote regions, can obtain and exchange information and contacts that can assist them in their work.

Recommendations will be given to the authorities on implementing laws affecting women in the media, including quotas for women employees. The center will press media owners to combat discrimination within their news organisations and to provide women with better protection. To this end, the center will organise seminars on physical and digital safety.

“We are proud to announce the creation of this first center for the protection of Afghan women journalists”, said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire. “These journalists are victims twice over, victims of the war imposed by the Taliban and the Islamic State group, and victims of strong pressure from all those around them. Dozens are threatened, physically attacked or forced to flee the country every year. By protecting women journalists, we are defending media freedom in Afghanistan”.

Ten women journalists based in ten different provinces, five of them in conflict zones, are already working with the center and acting as Afghanistan’s first network of women journalists. The goal is extend this network throughout the country.

Women in the Afghan media

The presence of women in the media is an important asset for Afghanistan. Women began working for radio stations in 1918, in a decade that also saw the emergence of women’s print media. But women journalists were always among the first victims of turmoil in Afghanistan, including the 1992-1996 civil war and the reign of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001. They have again endured many difficulties since 2003, especially physical danger.

Social obstacles, imposed for the most part by those close to the women journalists, compound security threats. In some cases, it is the very families of women journalists who become a source of pressure as they fear that their loved ones will be exposed to threats and dangers.

According to a survey by a local NGO, 53 per cent of families would have a problem with their daughter working as a journalist. In Kabul, it is 20 per cent, but in the provinces of Kandahar and Nangarhar, it is as high as 80 per cent.

Since 2002, relatives have killed at least four women journalists, including Tolo TV presenter Shaima Rezayee in 2005 and Shamshad TV presenter Shakiba Sanga Amaj in 2007. They were the victims of fundamentalist propaganda in favor of a ban on working women in a patriarchal society, and a lack of protection on the part of the state.

The Afghan authorities have often been accused of doing little to improve the conditions of women. Violence against women, including women journalists, has increased by 60 per cent in the past six years, according to the UN. Dozens of women journalists have been physically attacked, threatened or reduced to silence in remote provinces such as Nangarhar.

Many have been forced to stop working. In some regions, there are no longer any women journalists at all. Three of the ten journalists and media workers killed in 2016 were women. Thirteen women journalists and media workers (including five foreigners) have been killed since 2001, and at least ten have had to flee the country.