Unfair to women
Sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace have been identified as factors behind the falling numbers of Afghan women in the media.
Time and again journalists' rights organisations have expressed concern and called for the implementation of a law to protect women's rights in the media.
Last week, the Afghan Women's News Agency organised a day-long meeting at which Humaira Saqeb, its head, said Afghan women faced unacceptably high levels of discrimination and sexual harassment and it needed to be urgently tackled.
While no agency has created a database of the number of cases of gendered attacks on media professionals, the decreasing numbers of women in the media are evidence of the failure to build either a safe or secure work space for women.
Saqeb said the meeting would be followed up with a campaign to pressure the government to introduce a law to protect women in the workplace from sexual harassment and discrimination.
Authorities in the Ministry of Culture and Information are concerned about the visible decline in numbers of female journalists in at least half the provinces in Afghanistan. That it could have something to do with the failure to protect their rights is left unsaid though Sayed Jafar Rasteen, advisor on publication affairs in the culture ministry points to the currents laws in the country and says that mass-media law is for all media professionals whether male or female.
He adds that the law for the setting up of news organisations makes it mandatory for media managements to protect the right of female journalists under Afghanistan's labour laws.
But Mujib Khelwatgar, executive head of Nai, which works locally to support independent media and press freedom, challenges the law for the establishment of news organisations. He says it has been enacted to strengthen patriarchy – the word 'woman' does not even figure in the bill.
Khelwatgar believes the government has no interest in a law that will prevent sexual harassment of women and discrimination in the workplace. In fact, he points out, most of the staff who have lost jobs because of cutbacks in media organisations are female.
Amena Mayar, chief editor of Mursal Weekly, says women are absent in the media in 18 Afghan provinces.