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Harassment All Around, Afghan Women Weigh Risks of Speaking Out

December 10, 2017

One woman gave up on government employment after repeated harassment and started her own nongovernmental organization. She began applying for grants from the United Nations, the United States Agency for International Development and various Western embassies.

“Every time the same thing: The Afghan staff would say, ‘I’ll approve your proposal, if you have sex with me,’” she said, asking that her name not be used because she still hopes to find a grant and does not want to anger potential donors. “Everyone thinks that those women who work outside the home are whores, and Afghan men can say and do anything they want with them.”

Women in the media are particularly frequent victims, in part because they have public profiles, and often use social media with their real identities. That often attracts men who hurl sexual abuse at them with abandon — often not even bothering to disguise their names. The abuse frequently includes sexually explicit photographs.

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When Ms. Mehtar posted on Facebook her view that “Afghan women are not safe even in their own homes,” she was deluged with a mixture of hate mail and sexually abusive comments. She received hundreds of Facebook and Twitter messages — which she has archived. One came from an Afghan writer named Jalil Junbish, who described himself as an authority on women’s rights. It read: “You’re a whore and have had sex with many men.”

Contacted by Facebook Messenger about the abuse, Mr. Junbish not only confirmed that it came from him, but repeated his accusation. “Maryam is a whore,” he replied to a female Afghan reporter for The New York Times. “Why are you her friend?” He added, “You’re a whore, too.”

When the reporter contacted Mr. Junbish by telephone, he confirmed that the Facebook account was his own, but he then claimed that it had been hacked by someone else who sent the abusive messages.

The Afghan entrepreneur Hamid Samar this year came up with the idea of starting a television station, Zan TV, pitched at millennials. All of the on-air personalities, newscasters and producers are young women, 35 to 40 of them, with far fewer men behind the scenes (although they are the ones in charge). Some American officials enthusiastically praised the idea, and the station is seeking American funding.

Zan TV (“Women’s TV”) launched with a staff of all female presenters and producers in #AFG. Read more via @Reuters | https://t.co/IwZuVzRg46pic.twitter.com/nJqkYmdBEY

— USAID Afghanistan (@USAIDAfghan) June 6, 2017

Within only a few months, however, rumors began to circulate that many women were complaining of sexual harassment at the station, and there was a wave of resignations, according to two women who said they were among those who quit because of that. They were interviewed in the past week on the condition of anonymity because they feared being unable to find another job if they spoke out.

Afghan women risk their lives for new TV channel, Zan TV (Women’s TV) is dedicated to women.Video by TRT World

Mr. Hamid, the owner, said sexual harassment was not tolerated at Zan TV. “Zan TV is a safe place for women,” he said. “Families trust us and send their daughters outside to work for us, and we never break their hearts.”

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