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Radio Begum, a fragile shield against the rule of the Taliban

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TESTIMONIALS – The radio, created before the Taliban took power, offers six hours of daily lessons and a space for expression for Afghan women deprived of school and university.

For Sofia, the ritual is the same every day, and has been for almost five months. This 15-year-old Afghan girl connects her phone daily to Radio Begumqueens radioin Persian, to take note of the history-geography, English or theology courses given to him in Dari and Pashto. In all, there are about twenty presenters who take turns at the microphone.

A real refuge that breaks the radio silence imposed by the Taliban on Afghan women since they took power in August 2021. They have gradually made it impossible for women to access education. However, these six hours of air time devoted daily to the education of young women can at any time be reduced, or even suppressed by the arbitrariness of the Islamists.

100% educational radio

Hamida Aman, its founder, launched this medium in the spring of 2021. “At that time, the Taliban had not yet come to power, but the talks mentioned everything except the women’s rights “, testifies this energetic Swiss-Afghan reached by telephone. “Even if we did not imagine an event as radical as the capture of Kabul, my colleagues and I were very worried“. In response to this uncertain future, Hamida then created radio Begum, “a space designed to maintain a female voice in a country run by and for men“. At its origins, Radio Begum vibrated with music, talk shows and highlighted Afghan activists and entrepreneurs… Until the Taliban took power.

Taliban guidelines prohibit music and political opposition. Never mind : “the taliban closed schools, but did not ban education“recalls Hamida Haman. Radio Begum will therefore be a radio100% educational and informative, of public interest for women», and will avoid any political question, condition sine qua non to be able to legally continue to broadcast on the airwaves

Radio des Reines, which broadcasts from Kabul, reaches a population base of six to eight million inhabitants. It is based on three components: the first, educational, is “the backbone of the show“. It sweeps the programs from college to the final year: history, English, geography and literature parade on the airwaves, in Dari as in Pashto. The programs are based on those of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (“the last legitimate governmentreminds Hamida), so that the students can rely on the course books. They can ask questions via a free telephone line. The animators also added a playful dimension, with “Listen and Say», module of questions and answers on the courses. “I really like Listen and Saysmiles Mahboba, a student from Kabul, also reached by phone. “We recite poems, we answer questions… I almost feel like I’m going back to school“.

This warm atmosphere, Hamida wants to maintain it at all costs. “These girls need to be encouragedshe breathes. This program is not intended to replace school, but it allows you to not lose track“. As such, the facilitators who record the lessons are themselves former schoolgirls and students. Some went on assignment even recently. A practice now suspended: “we prefer to keep a low profile», justifies Hamida. “We risk a lot here“. And all the more so since the doors of the universities have also been closed to Afghan women for a month. An additional deprivation which further aggravates the situation of women in the country. It is forbidden to travel alone without a “moharam– a male relative – banishment of women from sports halls, parks and public baths… Sharia is the code of life in Afghanistan, and women are the big losers.

To help them, Hamida offers them spiritual training. “We arm the listeners by teaching them the sacred writings so that they can defend themselves“, she explains. And to hammer:Quoting the Quran is an essential way to defend yourself against an abusive husband or in-laws.“. A mastery of the sacred book also claimed by Shabana, a 27-year-old Afghan medical student. “It is obligatory in Islam to teach science to Muslim men and women“, she recalls on the phone, sobs in her voice. “The first verse of Surah Al-‘Alaq is precisely Read in the name of your Lord! – you have to let us read!»

Moral support and health advice

Faced with the ambient despair, radio Begum offers attentive listening and the answers of a psychologist. The calls scroll on the switchboard, a specialist takes care to listen and provide advice to these desperate listeners. “They are getting younger“laments Hamida. “They talk about dark thoughts, depression, suicide…In the meantime, this space for free expression is working: a few months after its creation, radio Begum was already recording more than 500 calls per month, all programs combined. The media, also present on Facebook, records traffic of 60,000 visitors per day. “VSdid a lot of good to see that there are women who defend other womensays Husna, a former student in Kabul, whose family was opposed to her continuing her studies in higher education.

The facilitators are also supported by an obstetrician-gynecologist. This offers help with health problems that women may experience, most of whom do not have the means to consult a doctor or have to travel with their husband, which makes confiding difficult. “My cousin had called the radio once because she had just given birth and was very depressed“Sofia says. “The facilitators listened to her and advised her for an hour, it helped her a lot“.

Gynecological advice, psychological listening and theoretical courses: Radio Begum is a Swiss army knife… Who lives under a sword of Damocles. “We can be arrested at any timewarns Hamida. “Each day that passes is a respite, but also an anguish.This ax that hangs over the heads of the facilitators has already fallen for the NGOs, which can no longer employ women. But Hamida persists, and Sofia signs: “Radio Begum is a little firefly in a dark night.»

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