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.
KANDAHAR — 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 — also the birthplace of Taliban leader Mullah Omar — 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.
"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.
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Durani receiving the 2012 International Women of Courage Award from Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton — 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."