A great Afghan journalist who was a Time The magazine’s cover star spoke of the “pain” of being forced to live in a hotel in the UK for nearly nine months.
Zahra Joya, who was one of Time‘s Women of the Year in 2022, currently lives in exile in London after escaping the Taliban in Afghanistan at the end of August last year.
The 29-year-old, founder of Rukhshana Media, Afghanistan’s first feminist news agency, said The Independent she struggles to cope in the UK due to her estrangement from her parents.
Ms Joya, who runs the UK outlet, said: ‘Living in a hotel and being away from my parents is very painful for me. Honestly, I’m mentally in Afghanistan. I’m just physically out of my country and home.
“I am disappointed with everything that is happening in Afghanistan. I feel broken every day and I start over. Life is very difficult in such conditions. I start every morning with a lot of stress and worry. When I wake up, the first thing I do is check my phone to see what happened in Afghanistan.
The Taliban stepped up its attack on women’s rights earlier this month, ordering older women and girls to cover their faces when out in public and try to stay at home.
In addition to this, the radical Islamist group has also ordered all Afghan women to wear a burqa that veils their face when out in public. At a press conference in Kabul, a Taliban spokesman said a woman’s father or closest male family member would be visited and possibly imprisoned or fired from his government jobs if he was discovered that she had violated the new regulations.
“It was good that I was listed by Time as one of their twelve women of the year in 2022,” said Ms. Joya, whose outlet highlights the struggles of women under the Taliban regime.
“At a time when, unfortunately, half of the Afghan population – women – are victims of the barbaric violence of the Taliban. Millions of girls in Afghanistan have lost their right to education.
Ms Joya, who came to the UK on August 26 last year, warned that the world “is seeing an increase in Taliban violence every day”.
The journalist, who was interviewed by Angelina Jolie for Time magazine, added: “The Taliban, an insurgent group that created two decades of war against the Afghan people, have repeatedly committed acts that are clear examples of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“They killed and tortured thousands of civilians, assassinated journalists, judges, activists and policewomen. They threatened and oppressed women and harassed political, racial, cultural and religious groups.
The Taliban “clearly ignored and violated international humanitarian law”, she said, adding that the group is “in flagrant violation of various articles of the 1949 Geneva Conventions”.
Ms Joya claimed the Taliban had “deliberately carried out attacks on civilians, deliberately directed attacks on religious, historical, educational, artistic, scientific and hospital sites, and taken hostages”.
The Taliban have stepped up restrictions on women since seizing power in the Afghan capital, Kabul, in mid-August as US and British forces withdrew. The group, which previously ruled the country, blocked women’s access to work and secondary education and banned them from participating in all sports.
Ms. Joya, who leads a team of female journalists who work in secret across Afghanistan, explained that Rukhshana Media is focused on reporting “the stories of women and girls who live under a gender apartheid regime in the 21st century. “in a climate where women are not allowed to simply choose the clothes they wear.
She added: “At Rukhshana Media, we want to say what it means to lose not only your rights, your job, but also your social identity.
“We’re not just doing journalism these days, we’re also covering the loss of our own rights, our own freedoms.
“One day we write about girls deprived of going to school. Another day we write about compulsory hijab. The next day, about women banned from sports activities. Then we report forced marriages and mysterious murders. The list goes on.”
Ms. Joya, who studied law at Kabul University, is from the Hazara community, a group with a long history of oppression by the Taliban.
Growing up, she spent five years pretending to be a boy because there were no schools that allowed girls to go nearby. She decided to pursue a career as a journalist after a friend suggested she intern at a local news agency, she said.
“As soon as I walked in, I knew that was what I was supposed to do,” Ms Joya added. “I decided to become a journalist and amplify the voice of the people, especially women, in the pursuit of justice. I knew many women who had sad stories but had no place to talk about them and share them.
According to Reporters Without Borders, eight out of ten female journalists have lost their jobs since the Taliban took power last summer.
Ms Joya, who has faced death threats for her reporting, said she has been a journalist for almost a decade now – adding that she is often the only female journalist working in the newsroom.
She added: “News and stories were often told from the perspective of men, and it was men who decided what was worth reporting.
“In 2020, I decided to start my own business so I could tell stories about what was happening to women and girls across the country and hire female journalists to do the reporting.”