Taliban’s TV ban for women: ‘It’s as if we don’t exist in Afghanistan’

By Ruchi Kumar | Originally published: The National

Months after taking power in Afghanistan, group is marginalising female performers

Afghan television personalities say the Taliban’s new rules controlling women on screen will exclude half of the population from popular culture.

The Taliban’s reinstated Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued eight guidelines on Sunday, including a rule that media platforms should not broadcast “shows that depict women and women’s body parts”.

The guidelines also forbid showing films and TV programmes that depict “foreign culture and values” and dictate that comedy shows should not insult human dignity and Islamic values.

Afghan artists said the new rules diminish women in the media, an already shrinking space for them since the Taliban seized control of the country in August.

“By removing women – half of the Afghan population – from TV shows, the Taliban want to erase our identities, as if women don’t exist in Afghanistan,” a 26-year-old Afghan actress identified as Mina told The National.

In the years before the Taliban’s takeover, Mina overcame social and patriarchal hurdles to establish herself in Afghanistan’s small but thriving entertainment industry.

“I had the opportunity to work on shows that portrayed strong female characters, alongside equally strong women in the production teams. They are all under threat now, some escaped, but many like me are in hiding,” she said.

Mina, who became a household figure for her roles on widely-acclaimed TV shows, has received many threats from Taliban fighters and sympathisers, who accuse her of insulting Islamic values.

“The history of culture and religion is made up of strong women, but the Taliban won’t acknowledge that. I don’t understand why they hate us so much,” she added.

The new rules require women journalists to wear the hijab on screen.

More than 153 media organisations were forced to close in the first month since the takeover, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

The number of women in Afghan media has declined from more than 1,300 in newsrooms across the country at the beginning of the year to almost none today.

Soraya Hashimy, 22, is among the hundreds of Afghan women journalists who are out of a job. She said that even before the new rules, women were forced from the profession.

“Even those women who worked in secret will not be able to do anything,” she told The National.

Ms Hashimy, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, spent the last four years specialising in video editing and shooting news reports, but she was laid off in the weeks after the takeover.

The new rules will discourage media companies from employing women.

“I don’t know what they mean by the hijab, since wearing a hijab has not prevented them from harassing me. I was recently out with my seven-month-old baby, buying medicines, dressed in full hijab, but was stopped by the Taliban fighter who questioned why my husband wasn’t with me. They detained me, and only left me when my husband arrived to collect me,” Hashimy said.

Media observers said the once vibrant media landscape in Afghanistan is under threat.

“The new Taliban rules regarding the participation of women in the news media reinforces the erasure of women from the public space,” said Elisa Lees Muñoz, executive director at the International Women’s Media Foundation, an international media NGO that has supported women journalists at risk and in crisis since the Taliban takeover.

Reducing women’s voices in the media will affect society at large, Ms Muñoz said.

“When we are not hearing about the needs and interests of half the population, communities cannot flourish. There is ample research about the consequences of lack of coverage in segments of communities,” she said, urging the international community to support and extend solidarity for Afghan women in the media.

Mina worries for Afghanistan’s future.

“You are telling young Afghan boys that it is OK to dismiss women from society,” she said, adding, “That is not OK.”