We applaud the women journalists of Afghanistan. We do so in recognition of their relentless bravery in breaking man-made cultural taboos. This is no mean feat. Especially given that last year, according to Afghan Journalists Safety Committee, was the bloodiest year post-2107 for those working in the country’s media industry.
Yet Afghanistan’s women journalists are not taking no for an answer. Meaning that they are doing more than their fair share to shake off the narrative that usually plagues them, and largely framed by others: that of being victims. Of male conservative brutality. That is, of course, true. And in no way would we ever wish to undermine the immense challenges and suffering endured by the women next door. Sadly, it is something that we, here, can relate to only too well. Yet we also recognise that there is more to their collective identity than that alone. Which is why we stand with them as they navigate this on their own terms.
Especially when it comes to the publication of Gellara, described as Afghanistan’s first ever high-end fashion magazine for women. Launched last month, it has an all female editorial team, working on a volunteer basis. It is based along the lines of the international glossies — with not much difference content-wise on certain fronts. The first edition offers readers an introduction to the dating app, Tinder.
Naturally, it will be all too easy for the chattering classes across this side of the border and elsewhere, safely ensconced within the confines of their parlour room gatherings — something that often passes for social activism here and there — to dismiss Gellara. On the basis of it simply pandering to western expectations of what acceptable female empowerment ought to look like in this part of the world. And, yes, to be sure there is some merit to this. But why should Afghan women not have the privilege of evolving distinct and competing identities. Women in the West kowtowing to patriarchal notions of female beauty might be challenged by certain quarters — yet never with quite the same vengeance as women in the Muslim world. Here, it becomes a political free-for-all for everyone else.
Gellara’s first cover girl is the Canadian-Afghan singer. She appears unveiled. In the words of Fatana Hassanzada, the magazine’s 23-year-old editor-in-chief and founder, “we are trying to teach society not to be shocked by these things.” We rather think she has a point. *