Farida Nekzad boldly defies the threats of warlords, politicians and radical religious leaders as she leads and inspires fellow women to break the silence on Afghan repression and violence. For over two decades she has worked to lead networks of reporters to cover stories that are often avoided by mainstream media. Her efforts have been challenged by kidnappings and bombings, but her spirit remains alive and fully committed to her dream of a free press and greater equality for women journalists.
Born in Afghanistan in 1976, Farida Nekzad began pursuing a career in journalism after receiving her education in Afghanistan. Farida founded three radio stations for women outside of Kabul, but her dream and efforts would be put on hold in 1996 when the Taliban government came into power and banned women from nearly all public occupations except for the medical treatment of women.
She fled the country and studied in India until 2002, after the Taliban government had been toppled and women were able to win back some of their most basic rights in working, education and voting. Though the region was still awash in violence, she began working as a reporter and quickly moved up the ranks.
“In 30 years of war, women and children are the ones to suffer the most … but they are not given any attention and have no media coverage.” – Farida Nekzad
All around her, male and female reporters were being harassed, kidnapped and killed if their articles spoke about anything that could be perceived as controversial by the ruling parties.
Farida’s own friends had been brutally attacked and killed and she herself had begun receiving death threats by phone and e-mail, threats of rape, disfiguration by acid and death.
In 2003, Farida wrote about a local warlord who walked free after committing the crimes of murder, rape and torture. Shortly after her story was published she was kidnapped and barely escaped by diving out of the moving car. After this experience, she began traveling to work in different cars and using different routes each day, she also indiscriminately changed the rooms she slept in at night to avoid potential ambush.
Despite the incredible pressure, she continued to persevere. She married Rahimullah Smander, who is now head of one of Kabul’s large radio stations. Together, they raised their daughters, as well as Rahimullah’s two sons from a previous marriage.
“What motivates me is to be able to really encourage other female journalists not to quit. I am really fighting because I want them to be able to continue in this profession, to not leave this profession.” – Farida Nekzad
In 2004 Farida continued her journalistic work by co-founding a privately owned news agency named Pajhwok. Pajhwok began documenting the stories that many reading the mainstream and western news rarely would hear. Stories that often run against her country’s current news prohibitions. Among many other things, Afghanistan prohibits content that may humiliate or be offensive to real or legal entities, or material that goes against the broad sweeping principles of Islam. These prohibitions are vague and often interpreted by those in power to suit their needs.
As a result, reports about violence against women, forced marriages, and issues of women’s rights often are officially outlawed. In addition, those who write these articles continue to find themselves hiding in fear of their lives. In the past decade, Farida Nekzad has faced multiple attempts at kidnapping (one where her colleague was mistaken for her as they rode in the same car) as well as multiple bombing attempts at her houses. Her husband has also been threatened by the Taliban and religious extremists who feel that Farida, as a woman, has no place to work as a journalist.
Farida Nekzad does not let the threats stop her. She continues to shift where she lives, randomly change her work schedule and keep a low public profile by avoiding T.V. and press conferences.
“I want to break the silence. Whether I am dead or alive, the struggle should continue. Afghan women’s voices should be heard.” – Farida Nekzad
Because of her efforts to provide coverage on domestic violence, the battering of girls and women between families and the widespread practice of illegally forcing marriages, Farida has won multiple international awards. During her reception of one of the awards in 2008, Farida was given an opportunity to seek asylum in the United States. She turned it down, stating that she must remain true to her dream of paving the way for women’s rights and a free press in Afghanistan.
After four years as editor in-chief of the industry-leading Pajhwok, the 31 year old Farida decided to begin a completely independent news organization that would openly employ women reporters in order to report on the issues women face in Afghanistan. The Wakht news has continued to grow and now publishes in three local languages (English, Pashto and Farida’s native Dari). They work in unison with three radio stations and cover all 34 regions of Afghanistan.
As the situation in Afghanistan remains unstable, Farida and her colleagues have been facing greater threats from the current administration and their secret courts, as well as the rebelling warlords. They continue to push for laws that protect their rights to publish and the rights of women to be equal with men.
Farida Nekzad’s career has been a constant struggle and has been loaded with tremendous pressure, yet she continues each day to prevail. She is our inspirational hero for her commitment to her country, to the freedom of the press and the equality of women in a country in disarray.
[box type=info]More Resources:
IWMF Award Bio