“We are the last to resist.”

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On May 19, female presenters and journalists still working for Afghan television were ordered to “cover their faces”. Our Observer, an Afghan TV presenter, explains how she has to deal with this new decision and how journalists are resisting a Taliban bent on “wiping women from society”.

The Taliban’s Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice issued this order to female journalists across Afghanistan. It went into effect on Saturday, May 21. Thus the Taliban indicated that “any anchor who appears on screen without covering her face should be given another job or be fired altogether,” according to Sonia Niazi, presenter of TOLOnews, an independent Afghan news channel.

The day after the order went into effect, female journalists from three private media companies in Afghanistan, including TOLOnews, refused to comply and went on air with their faces revealed. But on May 22, they finally had to comply with the directive, in the face of “pressure and threats from the Taliban”. They all wore a burqa or a mask on the lower half of their faces.

Then several male Afghan journalists and broadcasters wore black masks in solidarity with their female colleagues. The trend has spread as well, with journalists from different countries posting pictures of themselves wearing black masks using the hashtag. # freedom (“Free his face”).

Many Afghan journalists left the country or went into hiding after the Taliban returned to power on August 15, fearing persecution. A total of 257 outlets have since closed in the three months following the capture of Kabul, and more employees have been suspended. The women were the first victims of this massive repression of the press: many of them stayed at home, fearing the Taliban’s reaction if they continued to work.

TV presenter on TOLOnews, broadcast May 23, 2022. © TOLO . News

>> >> Read about monitors Afghanistan: Hundreds of journalists forced to retrain them for strange jobs

Female journalists wear black masks to cover their faces during a Taliban press conference on May 24.

On May 19, TOLOnews anchor Yalda Ali posted a video showing how she wears clothes that match the Taliban dress code. She first covers her hair with a headband and then covers it with a cap. She then wears narrow sleeves to hide her arms and a long, oversized coat to hide the shape of her body. All his clothes are black. Yalda Ali posted this video on her Facebook page entitled: “How should I wear today’s show”.

‘I felt like they stole my identity’

Yalda Ali told the editorial board of France 24 Observers about her life as a well-known journalist and presenter for TOLOnews, under the Taliban regime:

“When the Taliban took control of Kabul, I decided to stay in Afghanistan, because I heard they would hunt down the families of journalists who left the country. I couldn’t let my family put up with this just because I wanted to stay, so if the Taliban came for me, they would arrest me and leave my family alone, so I stuck.

Within two weeks of the Taliban taking control of Kabul, our television station was shut down. Then, I learned that one of my male colleagues was going to start doing “Bamdad-e-Khosh,” the show I was hosting.

I cried this made me so sad. I thought, ‘It’s over, they’ve taken women out of the scene and will only be men from now on.’ My heart and my hopes for the future of women in Afghanistan, I am sure many Afghan women will do. I feel the same way when they see that a man has taken my place.

So that evening, I called the TV directors and told them I wanted my job back, and that I wanted to do my show. Fortunately, they agreed and I resumed my work.

Yalda Ali tweeted this photo of herself and one of her classmates crying on May 20, 2022. She wrote: “My smile is forbidden, my lips are forbidden, women will be banned soon.”

I was the first journalist to go back to work, and it wasn’t easy. It was scary, I was expecting them to come and arrest me at any moment. At the checkpoints, I covered my face to hide my identity.

I think it gave Afghan women hope to see me on TV. Every day I received messages from men and women telling me how happy they were to see me on the show.

But some concessions had to be made. The Taliban had made it clear that women’s clothing on television must comply with Islamic rules, as they set them.

I had to wear an oversized black coat to hide my “curves” and cover my hair very delicately. Before, I would wear colorful dresses and show off my hair. All my clothes, I choose them.

Yalda Ali and one of her colleagues from TOLOnews in May 2021, before the Taliban took control of the country.

That was until May 19. I was recording a promotional video for our show when the location manager came into the studio and said, “I’m sorry, but you have to wear a mask to cover your face.”

The move came two weeks after the Taliban ordered all Afghan women to wear a burqa in public, prompting protests from some women’s rights activists.

>> Read about monitors Afghanistan: After the return of the burqa, women are gradually disappearing from the streets

At first I didn’t take it seriously, I thought it was a joke. But the TV director arrived with a piece of paper in his hand and confirmed that it was real and final. I was the first broadcaster to do so.

It broke my heart, it felt like they stole my identity. They erase me as an independent human being and as a woman.

Journalists for TOLOnews and Shemshad TV wore black masks for the presentation on May 24.
Journalists for TOLOnews and Shemshad TV wore black masks for the presentation on May 24. ©.

“If I surrender now, the Taliban will achieve their ultimate goal, which is to completely eliminate women from society.”

It really worked for me, I thought a lot about whether or not I should follow the command. But I think our fight ultimately goes beyond what women wear or our personal choices. It is about our existence as women in society. It comes down to my simple presence on the TV set.

And if I have to cover my face, so be it. I will not give up. I will persevere and fight to stay on this podium until the end. I will continue at all costs to keep this flame burning, nurturing hope, will and determination to fight for our rights as Afghan women.

If I surrender now, the Taliban will achieve their ultimate goal, which is to completely eliminate women from society, and I will not allow them to do so.

The presence of Afghan women in society has already been reduced, and we are the last to resist. But I feel it won’t stop there. Sooner or later they will ban the presence of women in the media as in all other public places, I’m sure. What I’m going to do that day… Honestly, I have no idea.

Since the Taliban took power, I have risked my life and the lives of my family as well. The day they banned me from TV, I would have no reason to stay here. The only thing I think about these days is that Afghan women will not give up. We are fighting for our rights and freedom and I hope the world will not forget us.

The Taliban has a long record of violence against journalists, especially women journalists. Since taking power in August 2021, at least 50 journalists and media workers have been arrested or detained, often violently, for hours up to nearly a week, according to Reporters Without Borders.

In 2021, nine journalists were killed in Afghanistan, making it the deadliest country for journalists.

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