The essence of Afghan women, their intellect, and their courage in triggering disruptions in the digital ecosphere are transforming the online conversation about Afghanistan. Digital media has given a new spark to feminism, gender equality, and women’s empowerment around the world, and this phenomenon is now spreading to South Asia. From engendering a social awakening to educating people about their individual rights and economic liberty, digital media is fast emerging as one of the keys to the liberation for women in the region. Digital media has amplified Afghan women’s voices, helping them reach far corners of the world and to broader audiences.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that social media, in particular, has socialized women in the broader world and social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have proven effective in raising their collective voice and mobilizing their energy.
Social media is changing and so are the women of Afghanistan. Twitter may have started as a male-dominated platform, but a recent study found that women now outnumber men on Twitter by six percent globally. A report published in January 2019, “Social Media in Afghanistan: Users and Engagements,” revealed that social media is perceived to have an overall positive effect on social issues by all users surveyed, but perhaps surprisingly, women are more likely to perceive a positive effect than men.
Social media is still in its infancy in Afghanistan. While the number of accounts may have not reached millions, it holds the opportunity for engagement and expression without some of the trappings of traditional power or social capital. Many Afghan women today share narratives, start debates and inquire on subjects they would otherwise have no means of discovering. Platforms provide an opportunity to share realities, shape perspectives and bring attention to matters that users found relevance.
Firstly, I would like to bring attention to the new-era women of Afghanistan on digital platforms. Thank you to those women who take this platform to bring attention, advocacy and motivation. You have made a difference in thousands of lives. Recognizing a few of the many:
Farahnaz Forotan (@FForoton) strong female broadcaster and journalist known for her work with Afghanistan’s national outlet, Tolo News, paved the way for others in her field. Fearless.
Najma Zala (@NajmaZala) creative journalist with many unaware of her subtle gender breakthrough stories with BBC in Afghanistan. Strong.
Shafiqa Khpalwak (@ShafiqaKhplwak) is a poet and fiction writer, who is changing Afghanistan through kind words. Young.
Samira Hamidi (@HuriaSamira) is an activist for progress in Afghanistan, especially related to women. Sharp.
Saleha Soadat (@SalehaSoadat) former correspondent, but today’s social media audience know Saleha for her political commentary. Straight.
Fawzia Koofi (@FawziaKoofi77) is a former member of Afghanistan’s Parliament and Chairperson of Women, Civil Society and Human Rights Commission. Vocal.
Wazhma Frogh (@FroghWazhma) works in Countering Violent Extremism and has actively promoted women in peace. Equality.
Freshta Karim (@FreshtaKarim) is an advocate for early school age children. Encouraging young minds to think about anything. Visionary.
Second, I would like to speak about awareness. The tone, information and content are critical and we should use, apply and distribute with responsibility. There is no denying that information on digital media holds psychological and sociological impacts. Therefore, I am plausibly suggesting that we should use our platforms for feedback, constructive criticism, ideas, motivation, empowerment, social change and social justice. We should refrain from ad hominem attacks and stay focused on substance.
We should change the image of ‘Afghan Women’ with words, sharing uplifting messages through clicks and empowering each other through hashtags that will bring us closer together. Some that come to mind are #MeToo created by Tarana Burke to stop harassment against women; #WhereIsMyName by Tahmina Arian bringing attention to this common practice of wedding invitations not bearing the girls name; #herAfghanistan created by me to highlight the phenomenal achievements of Afghan women, and finally concluding with #AfghanWomenWillNotGoBack created by Wazhma Frogh to remind Afghan men and the world that Afghan women will continue to move forward in the fight for equality and will never concede the gains made.
This new era of Afghan women uses their words to fight for their rights, defending their sisters with bold and courageous statements on social platforms, and display power in numbers. This is the power of digital voices.
Mariam Wardak is a social activist and has served as Strategic Communication and International Relations Advisor at Afghanistan’s National Security Council. She tweets @MaroWardak