This story is part of Counterpart’s 16 Days of Activism series. This year’s global theme is “Invest to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls.” At Counterpart, our women’s empowerment team partners year-round with women leaders around the world, ensuring they have the training, means, and support to break cycles of violence and discrimination, and give them a voice within their communities. During the 16 Days Campaign, we will be sharing just a few of their incredible stories.
Humira Saqib is the director of the Afghan Women’s News Agency, the only news agency in Afghanistan focused solely on women’s issues. Saqib founded her company in 2012 to report on women’s issues and events in Afghanistan and globally. She and her staff cover international women’s movements, women in politics, and women’s rights. The agency publishes in Dari, Pashto, and English to ensure that readers throughout the country can benefit from her reporting. She hopes the agency will become a mainstream news source.
“I never see my work as work. This is my vision and passion. The reasons behind founding [it] were to see and have justice in Afghan society for everyone, particularly women. I believe women should be the representative of their rights and voices/stories. Luckily, before the collapse of the democratic regime in Afghanistan, AWNAO got to a point where we were the actual voice of Afghan women,” according to Saqib.
As the director of a women-led and women-focused media organization, she has always been concerned about the future of Afghan women’s rights. The change of regime and sudden Taliban takeover was a shock. The office in Kabul was full of women journalists. Overnight, Saqib was forced to let everyone go home and close the doors of the media organization.
Saqib escaped to Canada a few days before the Taliban take over, and most her team also fled the country to safety. Despite closing the organization, she continued receiving stories and news from women journalists nationwide. They were reporting stories through WhatsApp showing how women and girls are suffering at the hands of the Taliban regime. As Saqib says “I was just unable to see Afghan women suffering any further. I want to let the world know by reflecting on what is happening in the country. I firmly believe today’s Afghan women are so different from the women 20 years ago.” She continued to say that Afghan girls today are right-seekers and right-takers; they are the ones who have the courage and ability to stand in front of the current regime and demand their rights.
Keeping a low profile, having fewer facilities, and limited financial resources was challenging in the days following the regime change. Despite the difficulties, Saqib was determined to restart the media organization. Taliban officials enacted a ban against female journalists, but the organization’s female journalists found ways to cover the news and attend critical meetings and conferences. News and reports from a woman’s perspective can be different from a man’s and that’s important to Saqib and her colleagues. They report on the news through a unique lens and make an effort to tell stories from the remote villages where male journalists rarely go.
Even with their rights being stripped away, women and girls work side by side to raise their voices and fight for the rights of women in Afghanistan. Saqib and her team tell their brave stories. Urging action, she says, “we want our fundamental rights, which can be achieved only by our collective lobby and advocacy for Afghan women at the national and international levels. We need each other to be united and unified rather than at any time else [sic].”