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Film Highlights Plight of Afghan Women

Film by Afghan Women Journalists Highlights Plight of Afghan Women

Journalists participate in U.S.-Afghan Women's Council meeting

By Lauren Brodsky
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Afghan and American delegates to the U.S.-Afghan Women's Council took time from their official meetings with politicians and non-governmental organizations to view and discuss the documentary film "Afghanistan Unveiled," made by thirteen Afghan women journalists.

The film, shown July 16 at a luncheon at the National Geographic Society in Washington, communicates the continuing struggle and the brutal realities facing Afghan women. The documentary was made possible, in part, by a grant by the U.S. Department of State to the Asia Foundation, which in turn gave assistance to the French-based non-governmental organization AINA in Kabul, which trained the journalists and produced the film.

Two of the journalists were on hand to offer their perspectives and answer questions at the meeting where the council's co-chairs, Afghan Minister for Women's Affairs Habiba Sarabi and U.S. Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs Paula J. Dobriansky, as well as other members of the council, were present.

The film tells the story of women in Hazara who struggle to survive in a barren region after the murders of their fathers and husbands, and of women in Herat who continue to wear chadri (a veil that covers the whole body) and remain in their homes out of fear. Through a series of interviews, these women journalists tell an important story.

The two journalists also told their own stories to the Washington audience. Jamila Emami said she never believed it would be possible for her to work in her country. Since she returned from Pakistan, she has strived to be a journalist and is now working with her father's support.

"In Islam you can be whatever your want," she said. "I don't have brothers and my father said you can do anything a man can do."

Gul Makai Rangbar said that she was very scared when she started the documentary project, but she nevertheless went forward to tell these stories.

"I've always believed that there are two segments to success," she said. "You must use the equipment correctly and you must have the courage to get the job done. These two factors must come together."

"All of the journalists have something in their hearts they want to show," said Emami.

At first, Emami was also afraid to tell the truth out of fear for her life, but eventually she began to pursue the truth passionately. "You have to do something for all people," she said. "If I die this way, then I don't care."

Emami and the other journalists took classes to learn camera skills and script writing at AINA. The Kabul-based organization is dedicated to developing an independent Afghan media, and it worked with the young journalists to make the film. The word "Aina" means "mirror," which the filmmakers said was exactly the goal of the project.

Based on the success of this film, the National Geographic Society has given AINA a grant of $50,000 to fund a children's magazine. The women journalists have already started their next project on women's rights.

"If you want to be a journalist you have to keep working," said Emami, who at 19 is just starting out her career and providing inspiration for other Afghan women.

Before the film showing, Terry Adamson, the executive vice president of the National Geographic Society, welcomed the council members to the lunch and spoke of the famous National Geographic picture of an Afghan girl taken in 1985 by Steve McCurry. He also described how the society recently led a campaign to locate her, now the subject of an Emmy-nominated documentary.

"When we found her she told us she has a 12 year old girl who has never been to school and she asked us to help with education," he said. "We are working on a specific program with the Asia Foundation to place 300 girls in a three year school program."

Afghan Minister for Women's Affairs Sarabi also called attention to the need to educate a new generation of Afghan children. "You can imagine how important the education situation is in Afghanistan," she said. "We have all suffered for a long time."


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