A new journalism project, Sahar Speaks, launched earlier this month to help support women journalists in Afghanistan. Founder Amie Ferris-Rotman explains why she thinks it’s needed more than ever

With the US-led war in Afghanistan officially over, the country is undergoing its first transition to democracy in almost a century. The need to advance the careers of Afghan female journalists is critical at this time. That is where Sahar Speaks comes in: a new programme providing training, mentoring and publishing opportunities for Afghan female journalists.

The project launched on 15 December at London’s Frontline Club, with a panel on Afghan women’s rights and women in journalism. Speakers included Peymana Assad, the first Afghan to stand in an election for the Labour Party; Heather Barr, senior researcher for women’s rights in Asia for Human Rights Watch; Najiba Feroz, an Afghan journalist at the BBC’s World Service and Jacqueline Housden, head of news for Huffington Post UK.

Despite billions of dollars in aid and thousands of hours of gender training in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in late 2001, there are still no Afghan women working at any of the foreign news outlets in Kabul. This has been a systemic failure by the international press during one of the most important periods in Afghanistan’s recent history.

It would be more consistent for English-language media, which produce numerous stories on women’s rights, to hire Afghan female reporters. In Afghanistan, due to strict cultural mores, most women cannot speak to most men. Yet, for global audiences, the Afghan woman’s story is being told by Afghan men, foreign men and foreign women. As the situation for women in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, the urgency of realising Sahar Speaks – and hearing Afghan women journalists’ voices – is greater than ever.

First published by Red Pepper.

Photo title: A women’s photojournalism course run by USAID in Farah City, Afghanistan

Photo credit: © Josh Ives