All-Women TV Channel Zan TV Makes Waves in Afghanistanby Revati Tongaonkar August 10 2017, 6:07 pm
Zan TV, an all-women TV channel has been taking the Afghani media by storm. The first TV station to be made for, and run entirely by women, it consists of a team of 50 women, of ages 17-28, all of who work to give a platform to women and women's issues.
'Zan' means 'woman' in Arabic. The channel is a a radical initiative in a place like Afghanistan, where most media offices are run by men, and women are shunted to jobs inside their homes. Until only 16 years ago, journalism, and even access to basic education were unavailable to women. Today, female newsreaders do appear on news channels, but women are seldom in positions of power within the industry. Coming at such a time, an all-woman channel is a novelty, and a spark of hope, showing that behind the daily stories of violence, a change in attitude and traditions might just be taking place in the war-torn country.
Launched in May 2017 with a high-profile marketing campaign that took up billboards in Kabul, and on social media, Zan was founded by entrepreneur Hamid Samar. Samar noticed a disparity in the market when he saw dozens of job application by women going ignored at another TV station. The media landscape in Afghanistan is jam-packed, with almost 70 stations battling for coverage and ratings. In such a setting, Zan needs to build an audience and gain a strong foothold. The women wish to bring unspoken issues to the forefront and empower women, speaking on topics such as negotiating Islam as a feminist, reproductive rights, managing homes, finances and careers. Difficult issues, but necessary, and this dialogue is which is what makes Zan stand out.
The ratings speak for themselves- according to reports, an average of 90,000 people catch the morning news on Zan TV. The channel's most popular shows are the daily news, and a weekly slot that hosts radical afghan women- political activist Fareeda Kuchi Balki being one of them.
Nasrine Nawa, 26, Zan's director of news programming says she wants women to have an active role in politics and society. "We're empowering them to lead independent lives outside their homes", she explains. Her mission is to train the next generation of female journalists and introduce a strong female narrative to the current news scene. One of these women, Mehria Azali is all of 22, and working as a journalist and presenter at Zan. She is keen to explore issues such as underage marriage, rape and access to basic education. "During the Taliban's rule, women were only kept in the house to satisfy male needs." she says "Things have got better, but rights for women are still very bad, especially outside Kabul. When they watch TV, afghan women don't see issues that affect them being talked about. We want to change that."
The need for a conversation is evident- research carried out by NGO Global Rights in 2015 found that almost nine out of ten women in the country had been subjected to physical, sexual, or psychological violence, none of which find satisfactory expression of dissent in the media. Nawa and the team are addressing these issues directly - they have a whole program about justice for women and they want to encourage women by leading by example. They also want to develop a more positive outlook towards women's issues in Afghanistan. These may be slow steps, but they are progress for sure, a reflection of the subtle storm that is taking place.