• The Gender Security Project

Media, Democracy and Women’s Empowerment in fragile states

By Vanessa Beyer



1. Introduction While fragile states are considered as drivers of international insecurity and of increasing priority for the international community, gender issues and women’s rights remain a blind spot within their efforts. In the history of Afghanistan “[…] women have suffered for a considerable time every privation known to humankind, losing all their fundamental human rights, particularly the right to life, education, health and work.” (United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 2002: 3). But as fragile states like Afghanistan often lack the most basic things like security, infrastructure, rule of law or functioning markets, especially gender-related issues are often neglected. Additionally, these issues received only barely attention from mainstream media and the international community (Stabile/Kumar, 2005); hereby, “[…] multilateral state interventions have been more concerned with stabilizing the state system […] rather than to promote social transformation.” (Kindervater/Meintjes.: 475). If half the population with its needs and knowledge remains excluded, it won’t be possible to bring a society of a fragile state together, build profound political institutions or an active civil society and achieve sustainable development. These are tasks and processes that affect society as a whole and can only have a lasting effect if all social groups are equally involved. However, stereotypical role models prevent women from having an active influence on peace restoration and reconstruction.

Although Afghan women are guaranteed constitutionally with equal rights since 2004 and their social space has expanded since then, many obstacles due to history and conservative traditions prevent women to fully participate in social and political life: In 2012 the national Ulema „[…] claimed that ‘men are fundamental and women are secondary’ and condoned the ‘harassment and beating’ of women as long as there is a ‘Shariah-compliant reason’.” (Kouvo/Levine, 2018: 485). Further young women are still forced into marriage or denied basic education (Rahim, 2002: 628), and just generally face a lack of educational or economic opportunities and violence (The Asia Foundation, 2019: 49).

However, after the fall of the Taliban regime women started to take part in the social affairs as activists advocating for women’s empowerment, especially through different media channels.

In encouraging equality and social inclusion as well as fostering transformation within a fragile state, media has a crucial role (Deane, 2013). It has complex effects in reducing the risk of fragmentation within society, unleashing social as well as political change and increasing the opportunities for dialogue (ibid.: 4f.). However, media can also have a profound impact on further fragmentation and division within politics and society (ibid.). Due to lasting traditional rigid gender roles promoted by the oppressive Islamist regime by the Taliban and the public perception that women are inferior to men (ICG, 2013: 28), Afghan women have had no opportunities to live a self-determined individual social, political and economic life after an era of war and conflict. But the new opportunities given through media, pave the ground to empower women by making them visible in Afghan society and enabling them to make use of their legal rights (Khalvatgar, 2020). The following paper examines how this empowerment unfolds in concrete terms. 1.1 Objectives and research questions This paper aims to identify the role of media in fragile states like Afghanistan in relation to women's opportunities making use of their rights in a self-determined way and further how media is influencing the social perception on women’s rights regarding different aspects of life. Therefore, this term paper examines how media empowers women in different aspects. The following questions should thus be addressed:

  1. To which extent Afghan media empowers Afghan women?

  2. How can media empower Afghan women further?

1.2. Methodology and Structure In order to understand the specific situation of women in a fragile state like Afghanistan it is important to define what makes a state fragile and give a short overview on the current status of women’s rights in Afghanistan. In addition to that, the role of women and the importance to involve women in peace-making and -building to establish democratic structures will be outlined. Thereby, the relevance of this work is shown. The research questions posed, clearly imply the concept of women empowerment, which is explained in the following section and sets up the categories of analysis for the presented term paper. In the second part of the paper, the theoretical categories of female empowerment through media are analysed using the example of Afghanistan and further discussing current challenges of female empowerment. The paper concludes with an outlook on further possible steps to be taken by media to promote and enforce women's rights and to overcome gender differences. 2. Theoretical context 2.1. Afghanistan: the fragile situation of a state and women’s rights Within the present context, the academic discourse is also referring to fragile states as states that are in a fragile situation (Mcloughlin, 2012: 9f.). When a state finds itself in a fragile situation, it is not defined in an internationally or academically uniform way, nor is there an internationally accepted catalogue of such states. In most cases, a definition is given in contrast to the ideal of OECD member states, which guarantee legitimate monopolies of power in accordance with the rule of law to ensure the safety of their citizens and provide other basic public services: ''A fragile region or state has weak capacity to carry out basic governance functions, and lacks the ability, to develop mutually constructive relations with society. Fragile states are also more vulnerable to internal or external shocks such as economic crises or natural disasters." (OECD, 2012 cit. from Deane, 2013: 4). Another approach was chosen by the Fund for Peace, an US non-governmental organization dedicated to promoting sustainable security, that summarizes the most common attributes of a fragile state as the following: The loss of physical control of its territory or a monopoly on the legitimate use of force; the erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions; an inability to provide reasonable public services; the inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community (The Fund for Peace, 2018). The fragile states index by the Fund for Peace ranks Afghanistan on the 9th place (The Fund for Peace, 2020).

In general, several different indicators influence the fragile situation of a state regarding economics, politics and security with mutual interaction (Collmer, 2009: 9). Although these are the key indicators in state performance, it is important to pay attention to “[…] societal traditions, cultural traits, value systems and social norms [which] will impact on the country specific situation and constitute a whole range of independent variables […]” (ibid.: 13). Due to this context also women’s rights are to be found in a fragile situation. Therefore, it is appropriate to take a look at the latest history of Afghanistan in regard to women’s rights. Before a communist coup by army officers in April 1978 (Stabile/Kumar, 2005: 766) the government under President Mohammad Daoud Khan implemented reforms in order to improve women’s access to health care, education, economic and political empowerment (ICG, 2013: 2). Furthermore, the Afghan Constitution “[…] ensured basic rights for women such as universal suffrage and equal pay.” (Stabile/Kumar, 2003: 767.) in 1964; within the urban areas girls attended school since the 1950’s and women even held important political positions (ibid.; ICG, 2013: 2). Moreover, just a minority of women wear the burqa and even devout Muslim women opted for headscarves and long dresses. (Smeal, 2011). In the aftermath of the coup in 1978 the pro-Soviet People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan[1] formed a coalition government as main power (Stabile/ Kumar, 2005: 766). This government passed a reform program, which had no social base due to the lack of support outside the urban region of Kabul (ibid.). As reaction conservative Islamic groups formed a resistance movement organized called the mujahideen (holy warriors) (ibid.: 767).

This marked the beginning of attacks on women’s rights through provisions as mujahideen leaders passed a religious decree (fatwa) that forced women to wear the hijab, and further used their power within the refugee camps of Pakistan “[…] to impose their idiosyncratic interpretation of the role of women […]” (ICG, 2013: 3) denying them to attend school by 1992 (Kouvo/Levine, 2018: 487). They passed religious decrees “[…] that prevented women from holding government jobs or jobs in broadcasting, and required them to wear a veil.” (Goodwin/Neuwirth, 2001: A19 cit. from Stabile/Kumar, 2005). NGOs employing Afghan women were attacked, the women threatened or murdered (ICG, 2013: 3). As the pro-Soviet government began to weaken and to supersede by the mujahidin, Afghanistan descended into anarchy and the Taliban movement emerged from the Pakistan refugee camps (ibid.: 4). When the Taliban seized power in 1996, all remaining women’s rights were abolished: The Taliban regime set up a new Islamic fundamentalism and a strong form of gender apartheid, from which especially women had to suffer (ICG, 2013: 4.). After the international intervention initiated by the US due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the implementation of a transitional government a new Afghan Constitution was passed in 2004, providing women with equal rights, access to education and a quota for positions in the parliament (Kouvo/Levine, 2018: 488) on the basis of the ratified Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (ICG, 2013: 7). In general women experienced more rights and representation within society through legislation and policy[2] due to internationally efforts and an enhanced legal protection[3] - but women’s rights remained a neglected issue by the Afghan government (ibid.). Although a legal framework provides necessary instruments for women to advocate for their rights, it is not the most powerful instrument for political and social change (ibid.; Kindervater/Meintjes, 2018: 474); and although the introduction of quota regulations gives women access and representation in public office, a process of institutionalising democratisation does not automatically include a democratisation of power relations in society. The process of adopting laws on women’s rights by presidential decree “[…] neither reflected a consensus opinion of Afghan society nor was supported by a functioning system of rule of law and state institutions.” (Kouvo/Levine, 2018: 488) and led to a growing backlash against women’s rights failing to fundamentally change discriminatory attitudes and oppression against them. Up until today, militant groups such as the Taliban spread the perception that the concept of women's empowerment is being used as an ideological weapon by the Western countries (ICG, 2013: 24). Attempts to improve the status of women have always been hampered by a social structure characterised by patriarchal gender relations, tribal feudalism and a weak nation state. Therefore, Afghan women still face multiple challenges today. Violence against women, especially women who are professionals, continues to be particularly prevalent (ibid.: 21): “There has been a significant increase in intimidation, threats, attacks and assassinations on women who are active in public.” (ibid.), especially “[t]hose in positions of authority are regularly threatened; many have been killed […]; insults from male legislators […] in session and/or privately are also common.” (ICG, 2013: i; 14) – and specifically female representatives in politics have a purely symbolic role (Ebrahimkhil, 2018). In the political sphere, steps are being taken by the legislature that roll back the progress – one example is the reduction of reserved seats for women in provincial councils from 25 percent to 20 percent (ICG, 2013: 31). Furthermore, religious scholars prevent the enforcement of laws that strengthen women's rights and at the same time guarantee them protection, whereby they simultaneously strengthen the Taliban in their convictions (ibid. 25): - thus a backlash can also be recorded in the legal protection of women. In addition, the Supreme Court is staffed exclusively by men, who regard women as objects, especially when it comes to female sexuality (ibid.). Additionally, the appliance of legal safeguards and policies is often times not working: just a minority of cases on violence against women are reported, let alone investigated and recognized by the formal justice system[4] (ICG, 2013: 15; Ebrahimkhil, 2018). Other traditional institutions such as the jirgas and shuras, which are traditionally staffed by men, prevent the assertion of women's rights and thus their empowerment, as they still have great influence on political events and Afghan legal institutions. Even institutions now staffed with a small proportin of women, such as shuras (local councils intended institutional arrangements to empower women politically) are merely symbolic, because they are staffed by the male village leaders with their own women, which means that women are rarely in charge of the development funds received by rural communities without a real say (ibid.: 14). In addition, traditional notions of female role models remain in place, and patriarchal structures are still dominant. „Similarly, the Ulema Council, an advisory board on Sharia, declared in March 2012 that women were inferior to men and should not to venture into the public sphere or interact with non-family members.” (ibid.: 26). That such traditional institutions still have great influence is also shown by the following quote by Syed Muhammad Akbar Agha, a former Taliban commander: „it all depends on the ulema (religious scholars) opinion. If they say the constitution is all right, then we will keep it as it is. If they say it needs to be changed, we will change it.” (ICG, 2013: 35). Additionally, in the political sphere, women are not taken seriously in their function as representatives. Thus it is not uncommon that „[…] women MPs have the backing of local powerbrokers, warlords, leaders of former armed factions or senior government officials […] which enables them to tap patronage networks for votes in exchange for giving their patrons leverage in parliament.” (ibid.: 14). But at the same time they in return consider their backers’ interest. “[…] For years, women were kept in the dark by the Taliban. Now many of them have come into politics no thanks to their own strengths but as followers of men.” (ibid.). But informal structures such as warlords and militias also reinforce the insecure situation for women. Police abusing authority Afghan Local Police, which was constituted from militias in 2010 (ibid.: 27) and indistinguishable from other non-state militias it remains as a source of fear. Further, it is influencing proceedings of and participating in shuras and jirgas, while slowly becoming informal decision-makers (ibid.: 28). Moreover, it is more violent than the regular police threatening people and keeping women from attending school (ibid.: 28). In addition to that the Taliban continue their misogynistic policies and brutal practices against women, including attacks on girls’ schools, students and staff (Stabile/ Kumar, 2005; ICG, 2013). This unstable situation prevents girls from attending school and restores the low literacy rate of women at 29.8 percent (UNESCO, 2020). In summary, it can be seen that as international interest and presence in Afghanistan decreases, attention and support for gender issues also declines. Female empowerment has been found in the conflict between development and reform at the central level and tribal authority or traditional institutions and patriarchal relations at the periphery (Riphenburg, 2003). The fragile situation of the state facilitates the exercise of power by informal, traditional, religious and militant structures that contribute to the failure to enforce women's rights and ensure the protection of women. Furthermore, the patriarchal structures and the illusory presence and representation of women in the public sphere as well as in office favour misogynist structures. Conventional institutionalised patterns of behaviour and prevailing patriarchal structures can only be dissolved if these institutions and their environment are included in a transformation process that takes up questions of gender equality as an essential component of a democratisation process (Müller, 2007) – such an environment can be created by media for example. In order to be truly sustainable, peace must be inclusive, broad-based, and reflective of the needs and aspirations of all people within society. That women’s contribution to peace processes are valuable, is already proved in cases where women have had a substantive voice in a peace process for example as active observers or in actively engaging in mass actions (O’Reilly et al., 2015: 15, 18). Further, there is a strong relationship between gender and peace: Gender equality has been found to be associated with less violent international conflict, a lower risk of armed conflict within states and civil war, and lower levels of human rights abuses by the state (Caprioli, 2000; 2005; Melander, 2005; 2005a). While conflict conserves gender roles in many respects, articulating women as victims and “[…] as perpetually vulnerable to violence, violation, and exploitation […]” (Shepherd, 2017: 7), the end of conflict presents a new opportunity for increased participation of women and the transformation of gender relations on all levels. This construction of woman as victim is reinforced by a logic of gender that associates vulnerability with femininity reproducing the idea that women suffer disproportionately in conflict. In order to overcome this stereotype, women need to be empowered and viewed as Agents for Change. (United Nations, 2020). Peacebuilding and democratic decision-making institutions are not sustainable if half of the population cannot actively participate or access economic, social or political activities; while necessary opinions, needs and perspectives get neglected. Because peacekeeping missions and peacebuilding efforts often take place in male-dominated environments and institutions, women find themselves in unequal situations influencing decision making (Bjarnegård/ Melander, 2013): “Men tend to dominate the formal roles in a peacebuilding process; […] [as] male peacekeepers, male peace negotiators, male politicians, and male formal leaders.” (IAHPCR, 2008). Therefore, it is profound to include women at all stages of the process and involving them within key positions (Shepherd, 2017: 11). An equal participation of women is a necessary condition for the establishment of a stable post-conflict society and peace operations are more likely to be successful in societies where women have relatively high status (Gizelis, 2009; 2011) and the operations work to broaden egalitarianism. By giving women the possibility to actively advocate for inclusiveness and their needs, they can overcome the narrative of a victim and become their own advocate. This perception of women as advocates leads directly to the concept of women empowerment. 2.2. Concept of women empowerment and media The issue of women empowerment has become a crucial point in the programs and activities of the United Nations, Non-Government Organizations and governments themselves. The term empowerment is a multidimensional social process with different meanings in different socio-cultural, economic and political contexts. Within this process women get “[…] access to control over the strategic life choices that affect them and access to the opportunities that allow them fully to realize their capacities.” (Chen/Tanaka, 2014) in order to challenge and “[…] transform the structures and institutions which reinforce and perpetuate gender discrimination and inequality.” (Zheng, 2015). This is realized through the development of necessary skills and capacities, equal capabilities, access to and control over necessary resources as well as equal opportunities of women and man (ibid.; EIGE, 2020). All in all, this process should result in the general improvement of life quality (Chen/Tanaka, 2014). Deriving from the definitions of empowerment, the concept can be categorized into four main parts on which the present term paper concentrates on – social, educational, economic and political. Social empowerment refers to women’s social relations and their positions in social structures empowering them through equal rights, equal status and freedom of self-development in order to break male domination (Manohar, 2001). Educational empowerment recognizes access to higher education as an instrument of personal development and “[…] is one of the most important means of empowering women with the knowledge, skills and self-confidence necessary to participate fully […].” (UNFPA, 1994) in all spheres of life. The control over one’s own resources implies economic empowerment, which enables women to earn money contributing to the household, and providing them with a strong sense of their own economic independence. This form of empowerment is realized through equal work opportunities, equal organizational benefits, equal treatments and equal working environment. Political empowerment is the extent to which a group has achieved significant representation and influence in political decision making (Bobo/ Gilliam, 1996). Accordingly, women’s political participation and representation in decision-making bodies at all levels of governance structures, provide opportunities to change and influence public decisions and to bring them in their favour. They can further protect their own interests and legitimate rights or promote justice. Hereby they are becoming an active and equal member of the public sphere. That media can be an empowering instrument changing the image of women and increasing the self-confidence among them, showed the study on three Arab countries conducted by Leila Nicolas Rahbani to examine the increased presence of women in Arab media in relation to their social position (Rahbani, 2010). She aimed at examining whether Arab women social position changed as they increased their presence in Arab media and stated that “[…] nowadays, Arab women are turning to media as a means for their empowerment, as a medium for education that overcomes barriers of distance and time, and as a tool to advance their progress and development in their communities” (Rahbani, 2010: 21). Using media in terms of advocacy and education it can be expected to positively change society’s perception of women challenging public discourses, cultural values and social identities, because media offers the opportunity to speak out, get involved and influence the discourses on women issues. It is clear that feminist issues and the representation of women in the media have enormous relevance to achieve certain effects influencing social perceptions, but that at the same time female actors are needed who take an active role in media practice. Therefore, it is necessary to have a closer look at all the levels where emancipation of Afghan women can possibly take place. 3. Analytical part: Afghan women empowerment and media 3.1. Social empowerment As the legally equal status of women was already outlined in a previous chapter (see 2.1.), the following paragraph will concentrate on media representation of women and gender roles as well as perceptions of women’s rights in society. While Afghan women were banned from participation in public life under the Taliban, women’s participation and representation changed since the Taliban regime was toppled in 2001. Therefore, Afghan media have played an important role in promoting women’s participation in society by changing public perceptions. In general Afghan media established a great variety on women’s programming within the past years on Tolo TV, Ariana TV and RTA[5] as the most popular in this section (Altai Consulting, 2015: 11). Tolo TV, the largest private channel, runs several women-focused programs devoted to women’s needs, challenges and problems they continue to face in Afghanistan’s conservative, male-dominated society. For example, Banu (Lady), a live call-in show, is “[…] by far the most consistently watched and liked program by women.” (ibid.: 149) providing them with a participative format. Further, the programmes provide women with examples of successful female leaders (ibid.: 11) - One respondent states that Tolo TV invites women to engage in social activities, provide programs according women’s needs tackling important issues as well as giving solutions to improve women’s life (ibid.: 135). Moreover, the first TV station completely run by women Zan TV (Women’s TV) was launched in 2017 and “[…] strives every day for women’s freedom by featuring them on the TV programs [they] produces, showing the nation the diversity of intelligent contributions women can make.” (Nazish, 2018). For Khatira Ahmedi, a producer at Zan TV, the only way to combat discrimination is to empower women through media and represent them in public broadcasting (ibid.). Another producer at Zan TV is of the opinion that real changes derive from showing the idea of equality on mass media and making it therefore a public debate (ibid.). The TV station is advocating for social empowerment and breaking social taboos: „In their broadcasts the journalists talk about first aid or pregnancy gymnastics, but above all about taboo topics. They report on women who have fled to women's shelters because they wanted to escape the rage attacks of their husbands. Or about women who are in prison without trial for so-called moral crimes because they ran away from domestic violence or a forced marriage.“ (Backhaus, 2017). A research by the Asia Foundation in 2017 has shown that people who get their information from the media hold more liberal views towards women’s role outside the confines of the home: For example, the survey found “[…] 90.5% of Internet users and 93.5% of TV viewers believe women should be allowed to vote […] and 49.3% of Internet users and 48.7% of TV viewers say positions of political leadership should be filled by both men and women.” (ibid.). Figure 1: The Asia Foundation, 2019: 191. Further figure 1 shows that the majority of respondents are of the opinion, that women should be allowed to work outside the home and TV viewers especially are strongly agreeing with the perception that women should have the same educational opportunities. Another interesting survey result concerns the public appearance of women: Among radio listeners is a higher preference for the more conservative burka (39.2%) than among television viewers (23.8%): “This image is the most popular in all news-and-information categories except television viewers and internet users.” (ibid., 2019: 193). Furthermore, the niqap is favoured over other coverings by 28,5% of television viewers, while internet users prefer the niqab (27.3%) and the form-fitting hijab (26.9%) over other head coverings (ibid.). This allows on the one hand conclusions to be drawn about possible liberal depictions of women and gender roles in the media; on the other hand “[…] television and the Internet are the communication channels most favored by young, urban, educated Afghans, they are effective channels to reach this population, while other channels are better for reaching other population segments of Afghan society.” (ibid., 2017: 134). It gets also clear that a higher percentage of Afghans with a higher education get their information from television (87,5%) or the Internet (45,9%) rather than people with no formal education (55,7%/ 2,8%) (The Asia Foundation, 2019: 182f.). Further, due to the fact that rural residents have in general less access to certain media (ibid.: 183). This further reflects in their social perceptions of women: “Afghans who get their news and information from radio and shuras also tend to have less favorable views of women working outside the home than respondents who use television and the internet, and they are less likely than television and internet users to favor equal education for women.” (The Asia Foundation, 2019: 191). Concluding, this paragraph demonstrates that media is playing an important role regarding women’s public visibility and representation of women’s issues. Media is raising awareness for topics of emancipation, empowerment and equality within society; and therefore contributes to women’s self-development and in changing social perceptions. 3.2. Educational Empowerment Empowerment in terms of education begins with access to information. While it is difficult for the Afghan population and media in general to access necessary information due to governmental restrictions and practices (Amnesty International, 2020), data on women’s access to information in particular is not available or accessible. Most data conducted is not gender-specific classified, so only general statements about access to information by the media can be made here. In general “[a]ccording to the Ministry of Communication and IT Technology, out of a population of 34 million people […] [r]adio covers 73 percent of the population and TV covers almost 40 percent.” (Khalvatgar, 2020a). The main information sources for people are family and friends (86,7%), radio (57,3%) and television (65,9%) (The Asia Foundation, 2019: 26). In rural areas it is more common to listen to radio (62,4%) than in urban areas (42,2%) due to the general lack of access to television broadcasting (ibid.: 183). Primarily, Afghan women watch television, especially women’s programming, in educational terms - also for the reason that most households own a TV (69,3%) (ibid.: 20) - : They inform themselves on women’s rights, how to advocate for themselves and learn about the situation of other women; further they are highly interested in solving women’s problems (Altai Consulting, 2015: 132). As already mentioned, there are three media outlets especially popular among women, that provide information on issues important to women within different subjects. The talk show Banu on Tolo TV informs women on their rights and daily life issues as well as providing practical solutions by giving them a voice and place of expression within this interactive call-in format (ibid.). A contrast to this is the program of RTA, which is “[…] promoting women’s rights but within the framework of Islam.” (ibid.: 11) addressing a more conservative audience by respecting local traditions and governmental positions. However, this also gives the impression that the government is interested in women's rights and allows a discussion on women's issues even among conservative audiences. Ariana TV, similar to RTA complying with a more traditional image of Afghan society, offers the most innovative women’s programming in educational terms dedicated to empower women, increase awareness for women’s rights and encourage to participate in economic, political and social life (ibid.: 9, 135f.). The female respondents of the study also expressed feelings of being cared about and that Ariana TV programs value women’s issues (ibid.: 136). Nevertheless, there is potential for improvement in some areas: Programmes are “[…] still lacking the educational value women were looking for.” (ibid.: 136). Vocational learning and training for women within the frame of specific programmes was frequently asked, mainly by women, in order to learn tangible skills and in particular to engage in economic activities (ibid.: 144). Further, they are looking for a stronger presence of successful women as role models and in leadership positions (ibid.: 136f). Likewise, they require an increased public awareness for issues like violations and harassment against women (ibid.). 3.3. Economic empowerment According to the Center for the Protection of Afghan Women Journalist (CPAWJ) 7.577 people are working in the media landscape, 1.741 of these people are women; and 1.139 women are working as journalists (CPAWJ, 2020). An increasing trend can be seen here, as in 2019 only 864 women were working as professional journalists (ibid.). However, women face many obstacles like economic problems, social pressure, cultural barriers and “[…] society’s bigotry against women’s role in the media […]” (ibid.). This also hampers women’s access to information as outlined by Hamidullah Hamidi, head of Radio Neshat channel: “Men journalists have less problems than women to receive information as they establish friendship with officials.” (ibid.). In addition to that, women pursuing financial independence are facing hostility from conservative family members or Islamist groups: “[p]owerful local armed men and discrimination as well as sexual harassment are other reasons that hinder women from working in the media.” (ibid.). Furthermore, media organizations in general are facing crucial financial problems and budget shortages, which additionally to war and violence stop them from their journalistic activities (ibid.). Thereby, women often times get paid less: “[…] 26 of 30 women left their jobs in the media as they were not paid as they expected.” (CPAWJ, 2020). As women have become increasingly visible as journalists, threats from militant groups against them have also increased – like Fatana Hassanzada, who became threats and warnings by warlords also attacking her family (Nazish, 2018; Jabarkhail, 2018). Although violent threats and financial problems reduced the number of media professionals, women’s professional capacities increased due to special training programs for young female journalists (CPAWJ, 2020). Another positive development regarding women’s economic empowerment was initiated with Zan TV, which employs 50 women who conceive the content and design the programs; they moderate and produce different formats for a female audience (Nazish, 2018; Hassib, 2017). Thereby, Zan TV is providing women with equal working opportunities and financial independence as well as offering women the opportunity to fight for their rights and make an educational contribution. 3.4. Political Empowerment Political empowerment is closely related to educational empowerment – lacking proper educational resources Afghan women are facing challenges to use their right not only in casting their vote, but also in participation as a candidate in elections. Therefore, it is not only important to educate women on their political rights, but also providing them with opportunities to develop necessary skills for the political arena or capacities and resources to financially afford a campaign. The radio broadcast Radio Rashani launched by Sediqa Sherzai is providing women with important information on their voting right and stand for elections, because a majority of the women is not aware of their political opportunities (Chandran, 2019). Furthermore, women are concerned of the security threats during elections, which reflects in the low voter turnout of female voters in the presidential elections in 2019 (ibid.). Moreover, this is closely related to their self-perception as active political citizens, since for decades they were denied the right of education, to vote and leave the household. Already in 2004 a women’s political magazine was launched by The Institute for Media Policy and Civil Society (IMPACS), a Canadian non-governmental organization, “[…] that helps prepare women for parliamentary and presidential elections through news, editorials, and cartoons.” (Sultan, 2005: 19). Furthermore, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has funded the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which therefore supported media project providing women with a platform to express themselves and take part in the political transition process (Sultan, 2005: 17). An important role in women’s political empowerment is played by the media outlet Tolo TV, female respondents of a survey on the Afghan media are of the opinion that Tolo TV has a great ability to bring the voices of women into the political arena to people of authority and influence and to bring female issues to the governmental level (Altai Consulting, 2015: 135). Additionally, the survey found that “[…] 93.5% of TV viewers believe women should be allowed to vote […] and 48.7% of TV viewers say positions of political leadership should be filled by both men and women.” (ibid., 2017: 132). Hereby, it shows that media has a significant impact on people’s perception of political participation of women as voters and representatives. In conclusion, it is apparent that political empowerment through media is first of all presented as providing women with the basic education and information on political system as well as their political rights and further to make their voice heard by creating a space where they can express their opinions. 3.5. New developments: social media as advocacy platform The Internet is increasingly becoming an important source of news and information as around 12% of the Afghan population has access to and use of the internet (Altai Consulting, 2017: 7). The latest survey of the Afghan people shows that 41,1% of the respondents are keeping up with the news online and 70,6% are using Facebook frequently (ibid., 2019: 26). “Disaggregating by gender, […] 23.2% of men, but just 5.6% of women, use the internet as their main source of news and information.” (ibid.: 184). Thereby differences in access to the Internet still exist: “Males (44.3%) are significantly more likely to have personal access to the internet than females (13.1%).” (ibid.: 188) However, the internet provides the possibility for women to create own personal identities, to express themselves and exchange or “[…] comment on sensitive such as hijabs, religion, women’s rights, abortion, sexuality, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.” (Hossaini, 2018). Furthermore, due to global networking with a broader audience social and political protest movements are benefiting: Recent developments show that social media channels like Twitter or Facebook are increasingly used to bring awareness to women’s rights issues sharing personal views on current events and producing their own content. For example, social media was used as an advocacy platform for the self-made social campaign #whereismyname by Tahmina Arian, which protested against the Afghan custom of erasing women's names in daily life and fighting for women’s right to have their own individual identity (Altai Consulting, 2017: 26). Thereby, she used Twitter as important tool to promote this issue to an audience of politicians and media organizations (ibid.). Although social media gains increasing importance as an advocacy platform for social activists and social campaigns, women have an ambivalent relationship: “Social media has been a doubleedged sword for women’s rights activists. For Frogh Waghma, Twitter can be used to name and shame individuals for their wrongful attitude but social media is routinely used to question a woman’s integrity and respectability.” (Altai Consulting, 2017: 45). Further, social activists like Tahmina Arian face harassment online and on the streets (ibid.). Despite the dangers of social media, women see the overall positive effects of social media providing opportunities of freedom to express themselves (ibid.: 55). Further, the majority of female respondents (75%) is of the opinion, that social media will have a positive impact on gender: “Social media is changing the way young Afghan women can relate to individuals beyond their family, from talking to members of the opposite sex privately to posting pictures of themselves online […].” In general, social media is having a crucial role in mobilizing people for women’s issues, empowering women through access to information and different social perspectives as well as influencing change within society. Nevertheless, one should be aware of backlashes, because “[…] hate speech, radicalization, and online harassment are also part of daily social media use.” (ibid.). 4. Conclusion The previous chapters showed that women’s empowerment and peace-building as well as peace-making processes in fragile states are strongly connected with each other, while media takes a vital role in fostering and promoting social change, encouraging equality, social inclusion and women to make use of their rights. Afghan media empowers women in different ways: First of all, by addressing women’s rights and issues within a traditional society, media contributes to changing social perspectives and women’s self-development. Furthermore, giving access to information important to women, media fulfil their educational mission providing women with programs on their rights and giving solutions on related problems. This is achieved by programs especially targeting women and making their needs a priority. In addition to that, media contributes to the economic empowerment of women by providing jobs and giving them the opportunity to work in leading positions. Furthermore, media fosters women’s role as an active member of the public sphere and as an active political citizen by educating women on their political rights. Additionally, media provides women with a platform to express themselves and their opinion as well as bringing their voices to the political arena. Women are no longer victims of conflict and fragile situations in Afghanistan, through media they actively claim their place and presence within society. Nevertheless, further steps can be taken to involve women more closely in all social, political and economic means of empowerment. This includes primarily access to media and information. In rural areas in particular, this must be further expanded in order to offer all women equal opportunities and counteract mediatized stereotypes of gender roles. The presence of strong female personalities in media formats must be further expanded. The media should increasingly show women as experts and authorities on various issues such as health, education, security, politics, and governance in order to establish a positive public image of women. Women need to be recognized as important figures of democratic nation-building processes: Also in political formats, female politicians should be given a stronger platform, for example by including female guests in panel discussions. This also means that women's topics should be addressed outside of the specific women's programming and made accessible to a wider audience. Likewise, male allies for women's rights should be integrated into media representation in order to break down gender roles even more and address the male audience; media outlets with conservative programs and audiences must be targeted here in particular. The greatest potential for empowering women in the political arena is offered by social media as an interactive and yet largely anonymous platform where women can be exposed to fewer dangers during political activities without having to fear for their safety. Social media can further contribute to the establishment of democratic and pluralistic structures: “Sharing opinions and discussions online with people from all over the country teaches its users to learn about different perspectives, needs, and opinions.” (Hossaini, 2018). The extent of this paper, however, was not able to take a closer look at the cultural, traditional and religious as well as patriarchal interrelationships and to explain their correlations in detail. Following this work, a deeper analysis is needed that relates the different levels of empowerment even more strongly to each other and shows the mutual dependencies. A further difficulty that occurred during the writing of the term paper was the current data situation regarding the use of media and technology by women. On the one hand there was hardly any data available, on the other hand there were studies that concentrated primarily on young, educated Afghan women in Kabul and thus neglected the perspectives of women from rural areas. The inaccurate data also withheld a detailed analysis of the current state of women's empowerment in individual regions: For example, security is an important indicator, that varies from region to region, when it comes to the practice of a journalistic profession or to voting. Despite this, similar developments regarding the empowerment of women through media can be observed in other fragile states such as Southern Sudan. The Sudanese media portrays women as marginalized, weak groups and passive agents, while men are playing an active role (Republic of South Sudan, 2000: 31f.). It was recognized as early as 2000 that media reporting of gender discrimination is reinforced by gender stereotyping and it limits women's possibility to participate fully in all aspects of life (ibid.). Thereby, institutions such as UNESCO have acknowledged that the media are an important mouthpiece for women, their needs and problems. For this reason, the UNESCO has targeted the promotion of radio services, for example, to provide women with journalistic training in order to create their own content, a platform to inform themselves about topics that are important to them and to express their opinions by generating content themselves (UNESCO, 2019). Additionally, the empowerment of women is also an important part of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation by promoting and supporting women in leading positions and as journalists, involving them in public discussions for example on radio talk shows or increase their TV appearance, focusing on women's achievements within reporting as well as recognizing their skills and potentials (SSuDEMOP, 2016: 38f). In general, various actors like the South Sudan Women Empowerment Network are working to increase the participation of women in the media. Independently of this, the Internet and social media are creating further options for women's social interaction and political participation. Social media like Facebook give Sudanese women the opportunity to work and earn money from home: "These [...] online activities by Sudan's Facebook traders have helped women navigate restrictive environments. (Steel, 2019). 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[3] They can now “[…] seek refuge in shelters or safe houses run by the women’s affairs ministry of by Afghan NGOs” (ICG, 2013: 10) on basis of the presidential decree the Elimination of Violence Against Women Law in 2009. [4] In 2017, over 87 percent of women have experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage (Human Rights Council, 2015: 5). Between October 2011 and September 2012, only 100 cases out of 470 were condemned (ICG, 2013: 16). Further the idiosyncratic interpretation of Sharia does not consider the right in the case of rape to be on the side of the woman, but protects the family's honour by making it necessary for the family to marry the perpetrator (ibid.: 17). [5] Radio Television of Afghanistan (RTA) is strongly government-oriented by providing information directly from the institutions, serving the nation’s interest while respecting traditional and cultural Afghan values (Altai Consulting, 2015: 8f.). Tolo TV is considered as trustworthy news channel with a modern character broadcasting on different issues, also on more controversial issues, and Ariana TV is similar to RTA, broadcasting according to religious and cultural values to reach a more conservative audience. (ibid.).


About the Author:

Vanessa Beyer is currently studying Global Communication: Politics and Society at the University of Erfurt with a theoretical focus on political communication. The following paper was written as part of the seminar Media, Democracy and Political Transformation in International Comparative Perspective.

She has recently become increasingly involved with the topics of gender, feminism and empowerment. For this reason, she decided to use the gender perspective, which is often neglected in the academic field of political science in connection with fragile states. Furthermore, a special personal interest has sharpened her attention for the country of Afghanistan in recent years.

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