Afghanistan has become the never-ending war of our time. Its mere mention produces sighs and shrugs from diplomats, despair and exasperation among aid workers.
In 18 months, the country will have been submerged in conflict for 40 years. Two former Cold War superpowers each spent at least a decade occupying Afghanistan, and it is now on the brink of a security vacuum that could engulf the region. But, despite this, the world is turning a blind eye to the fate of Afghanistan’s people. Donor fatigue has reached exhaustion, Afghan refugees in Europe are not given the same welcome as some from other nations, and Washington’s strategy is mired by ambiguity.
Afghan women have always featured prominently in coverage of their country. Yet, two years ago, not a single Afghan woman worked for the English-language, foreign media outlets in Kabul. As a result, they were often painted as either record-breaking heroes or pitiful victims. Not much came in between. This is why I founded Sahar Speaks. By giving opportunities to Afghan female journalists to work for the international press, more nuanced stories emerged. Our alumnae have gone on to work for The New York Times, the BBC, Al Jazeera and other news organizations.
In this second round for HuffPost, our journalists introduce us to women from all walks of life, touchingly relayed through visual storytelling. One participant focuses on the brazen attack on the American University of Afghanistan, when Talib fighters stormed the dormitories and classrooms, indiscriminately killing students and staff. In her short film, she shows the lives of two severely injured female students, who were forced to stay at home, bored and frustrated. The university was their world ― their sole chance to walk around, unhindered and unharassed. Afghanistan’s pervasive violence had cut their freedom short.
In another story, a black-and-white photography series opens a window onto Afghanistan’s much-needed but heavily stigmatized female police force.
We also meet women who have returned home after studying abroad, who suffer from reverse culture shock in their native Afghanistan. And we are introduced to Afghan women who have made it in a man’s world despite the odds, becoming drivers, successful businesswomen and breadwinners in widowhood.
In each of their stories, we are reminded of why Afghanistan matters. Just as the U.S. and other Western nations haven’t vanished from the planet, neither has Afghanistan. We cannot let its women slip from our consciousness and from our screens.