France-based Begum TV channel offers a lifeline to Afghan women

France-based Begum TV channel offers a lifeline to Afghan women

In a tiny television studio in the French capital, two unveiled Afghan women face the camera on a mission to provide a lifeline to their fellow countrywomen back home. 

Issued on: Modified:

4 min

“Tonight we’ll be discussing the different forms of violence against women in Afghanistan,” says 25-year-old Diba Akbari, speaking in front of a green screen.

A new France-based satellite television channel called Begum TV is beaming educational programmes and a little light relief to women stuck at home in Afghanistan.

“They wed a woman and put her in a corner. She’s reduced to household chores and her only aim in life is to breed children,” says Akbari.

“But preventing her from continuing her studies and training, that’s violence.”

Taliban authorities have tightly restricted women’s access to education since they seized power in 2021, imposing a strict interpretation of Islamic law that means all women must be veiled and largely excluding women from public life.

Teenage girls and women are barred from schools and universities, and thousands of women have lost their government jobs — or are being paid to stay at home.

Broadcasting from abroad means 'there are no taboos,' says Afghan-Swiss entrepreneur Hamida Aman.
Broadcasting from abroad means ‘there are no taboos,’ says Afghan-Swiss entrepreneur Hamida Aman. © Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt, AFP

Many women journalists have fled the country.

Afghan-Swiss entrepreneur Hamida Aman founded the television station in Paris to try to help girls and women continue their education.

“The aim is to bring school and knowledge into homes,” she said, her bright green eyes deeply serious.

That includes “information but also a little happiness and entertainment as balm for women’s wounds”.

‘Way into households’

In the Paris offices of the Begum Organization for Women, Aman jokes with a team of a dozen — mostly women — staff working behind the scenes.

In the entrance, a flask of fragrant green tea awaits guests under images of Afghan girls wearing all-encompassing burqas.

For the large part of the day, Begum TV airs secondary school classes in Dari and Pashto — once in the morning, and then again during a re-run in the afternoon.

More than 8,500 videos covering the national curriculum have also been uploaded on a sister website, available for free to anyone with an internet connection.

But in the evening, the channel broadcasts three hours of prime-time entertainment.

They include two flagship talk shows — one answering common healthcare queries called “Matab” (“clinic” in Dari) and a second on mental health titled “Tabassum” (“smile”).

Marina Golbahari says she and her co-host try to give Afghan women confidence.
Marina Golbahari says she and her co-host try to give Afghan women confidence. © Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt, AFP

Broadcasting from abroad means “there are no taboos,” Aman said.

The United Nations has accused the Taliban authorities of creating a “gender-based apartheid” since seizing power. They have banned women from public parks, sports halls and even shut down beauty parlours.

But more than 80 percent of the population watch television every day, according to a 2023 BBC Media Action study.

“It’s a way into households,” Aman said, adding that she hoped the channel would give women “some breathing space”.

One show they are airing is an Indian soap opera inspired by the life of 13th-century female ruler Razia Sultana.

It’s the tale “of a woman who becomes queen instead of her brothers,” she said, with a mischievous smile.

‘Help my sisters’

The channel has also given new meaning to the lives of young Afghan journalists in exile.

Akbari, one of the two presenters of “Tabassum”, said she lived under the Taliban for more than a year before fleeing to France in 2022.

Today she says she feels “incredibly lucky” to be working.

“Afghan women have been stripped of all their rights, they have almost nothing left… I wanted to join Begum TV to help my sisters,” she said.

'I feel like I'm starting to live again,' says presenter Diba Akbari.
‘I feel like I’m starting to live again,’ says presenter Diba Akbari. © Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt, AFP

“When I come in and see my colleagues and focus on my work, I feel like I’m starting to live again.”

Her co-host is Marina Golbahari, an actor who notably starred in 2003 feature film “Osama” that was awarded a Golden Globe.

She said she had struggled to find a good acting job after arriving in France eight years ago, and had always wanted to be a television presenter.

“This is the best way I can help Afghan women,” she said of the “Tabassum” programme, which tries to give advice on how best to cope with the new rules.

“We try to give them confidence,” she said.

Aman, who has been working on media projects in Afghanistan for two decades, says sometimes it is difficult to remain optimistic with all the “absurd restrictions piling up” against women.

“But whenever I go back, I see all these young girls the same age as my children who are being deprived of an education and I remember why I am fighting,” she said.

(AFP)

‘First of its kind’ entertainment district to open on KCK bridge this summer: New details Previous post ‘First of its kind’ entertainment district to open on KCK bridge this summer: New details
New movies 2024: the most exciting films coming to theaters Next post New movies 2024: the most exciting films coming to theaters