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Afghan Woman Fights Taliban, One Radio Program At A Time

In recent months the Taliban has destroyed three radio stations in Kunduz province. But it hasn't stopped 28-year-old Maryam Durani, who remains determined to continue broadcasts for women.

Mairman Radio founder Maryam Durani
Mairman Radio founder Maryam Durani
Mudassar Shah

KANDAHAR â€" The main bazaar in Kunduz looks deserted. It's because many have left the city or are staying indoors after the Taliban took control in October. A local journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, says it's simply too dangerous to stay in Kunduz right now.

"The Taliban has taken several people from their homes and killed them for no reason," he says.

The Islamic terrorist group has also recently attacked three radio stations in Northern Kunduz, and militants have also threatened several prominent reporters.

But in the conservative area of southern Kandahar â€" also the birthplace of Taliban leader Mullah Omar â€" Maryam Durani has founded a radio station for women called Mairman Radio. In the Pashto language, "Mairman" means "woman," and most of the station's programs focus on women's issues.

In the four years that it has been on the air, the station has become very popular, says 28-year-old Durani. "Women call the station to share their problems, to seek guidance and ask our experts," she says. "The parents, especially the fathers, also ask us for guidance about how to create a better future for their daughters. So these are great achievements in a province where women can't go outside without wearing a burqa, an area where families don't allow women to work."

Mairman Radio broadcasts cover topics for women such as education, women's rights and agriculture. It airs 13 hours of programs daily, and more than 800,000 listeners tune in every month, mostly women in Kandahar.

But Durani admits that promoting women's rights in the second-largest city in Afghanistan isn't easy and that it has made her particularly unpopular with the Taliban. Being the voice of the voiceless is always dangerous.

Undaunted

"It's very difficult to be a station owner," she says. "I have survived different attacks. My family has received threats, and even my employees have received threats several times for the work we do."

But the death threats sent via text message leave Durani undaunted. In fact, they have made her even more determined to keep running her independent radio station, which is partly funded by the United Nations.

Durani receiving the 2012 International Women of Courage Award from Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton â€" Photo: U.S. Department of State

"I have never been afraid of threats and never bothered about them," she says. "Instead, I have tried to convince my opponents of my work, and have been more than ever focused on my work, to enhance it instead of stopping or slowing down."

And Durani’s hard work is being recognized. In 2012, she received the International Women of Courage Award, which is chosen by the U.S. Secretary of State. The same year she was included in Time magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people. Last month, Durani also took home the N-Peace Award for her work in building peace and transforming communities.

Jina Popal, a 17-year-old student in Kandahar, has been a regular listener of Mairman Radio for several years. "I have realized the important and valuable role of women in the world," she says, adding that the station is "like a school for women in Kandahar."

Hamida Muhammadi, a producer and anchor at the station for more than two years, says one of the biggest issues women here face is family resistance regarding the role of women. "Our parents and relatives have different opinions about women who have jobs, especially about those who work in media," she says. "Their attitudes have prevented many women from getting out of the house for a job in the media or any other place. People look down on working women in our area."

Maryam Durani is also a provincial council member, a role that she uses to promote women's empowerment. She hopes one day to extend her radio shows to other provinces, but for now, the medium is an effective way to reach a mass audience.

"It's very difficult to gather men and women in the same place at the same time for any activity or discussion in Kandahar," she says. "That's why I started the station, to convey a message to the maximum number of people at the same time."

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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