Anisa Shaheed: A voice for the people of Afghanistan
Shaheed has dedicated her career to journalism in the face of oppression, with a renewed purpose since the extremist group’s recapture of the country in 2021
Shaheed has helped redefine what it means to be a woman journalist in Afghanistan in the face of significant risk to her safety and wellbeing.
By JAMAIJA RHOADES
Under Taliban rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, women were confined to their homes, not permitted to attend school or work most jobs. They had restricted access to healthcare and weren’t allowed in public spaces without a male chaperone, among other limited freedoms.
Growing up in the Panjshir Valley in northeastern Afghanistan, Anisa Shaheed witnessed the Taliban’s crackdown on women firsthand. “As a young girl, it was very difficult to study and work in a war-fighting country,” she said.
Shaheed has dedicated her career to journalism in the face of this oppression, with a renewed purpose since the extremist group’s recapture of the country in 2021. “The people of Afghanistan, especially women, live under the Taliban’s shadow — under a group that violates the rights of the people,” said Shaheed, who was based in Kabul before she left the country last year.
In recognition of the timely, incisive journalism she has carried out during her career, Shaheed is one of this year’s ICFJ Knight International Journalism Award winners. “I wanted to be wherever there’s a problem, and get that voice and that news to the people,” she said of her reporting. “That was my wish, and I did it.”
Shaheed’s early years
After the Taliban lost power following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Shaheed was able to pursue a degree in journalism at Kabul University. She landed her first job in the field as a reporter for the Cheragh Daily Newspaper before moving to the independent TV channel TOLO news in 2009.
Shaheed established herself as one of Afghanistan’s most notable TV journalists in the years since, shedding light on the challenges women living in Afghanistan face, exposing injustices and holding those in power to account.
In 2016, Shaheed interviewed a senior Afghan official, Ahmad Ishchi, after he alleged that he had been kidnapped and sexually abused on the orders of the country’s vice president, General Abdul Rashid Dostum. The allegations sparked a public outcry and charges were brought against Dostum, who went into exile.
Threats to her safety
Shaheed has helped redefine what it means to be a woman journalist in Afghanistan in the face of significant risk to her safety and wellbeing. “[People] say to me, ‘how do you still go to work? Are you going out again?’” she said in an interview with PBS NewsHour. “You don’t know when you go out on the street, even if you are just standing there, from which direction someone could come and kill you.”
The Taliban killed seven colleagues of Shaheed’s in a bombing several years ago, she noted in the PBS interview. “I worked in Afghanistan for over a decade, in a country that was at war. In recent years, Afghanistan has been declared the bloodiest country for journalists,” Shaheed explained. “It is difficult to work in a country that is at war. Especially for women, [the] security problems, social problems and family problems [make] it very difficult for women who are journalists.”
Shaheed’s commitment to her reporting was no different when COVID-19 swept the world in early 2020. She ventured to hospitals to learn more about the disease and to share health information with her community, when others were quarantined at home.
Her coverage helped Afghan citizens better understand the threats posed by the novel coronavirus, while holding government officials accountable for how they were spending relief funds.
“When I went to the hospital for coverage, I spent hours talking to patients, family members of patients and doctors. I heard everyone’s stories, and in doing so, I wanted to make people understand that they shouldn’t [panic because of COVID-19],” she said.
The Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan
Conditions for reporters and women in Afghanistan have deteriorated significantly since the Taliban regained control of the country in 2021 following the U.S. military withdrawal. Shaheed sought refuge in the U.S. out of concern for her safety.
More than 7,000 miles away today, she continues to cover her native country as a freelance reporter. Her commitment to creating a pathway for other Afghan women, and especially women journalists, has never wavered. “I wanted to tell people that women can do anything in Afghanistan. Women can do anything, women can be journalists,” said Shaheed. “While many believed that women could not work in Afghanistan like men — women did.”
Advocating from abroad now for better treatment of the citizens of Afghanistan, Shaheed hopes circumstances will soon change for the better.
“I wish that one day the daughters of Afghanistan will have the right to education, women [will] have the right to work, have the right to live and [that] the people of Afghanistan [will be able to] walk peacefully on the roads of Afghanistan,” said Shaheed.
Courtesy: IJNET (Published on Oct 21, 2022)