Afghan women break ground with TV station launch

KABUL (Reuters) - A new TV channel dedicated to women is set to begin broadcasting in Afghanistan, the first of its kind in a country whose media industry, like many areas of society, remains dominated by men.

Zan TV ("Women's TV") launches on Sunday with a staff of all female presenters and producers, following a high-profile marketing campaign on billboards in Kabul and on social media.

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Female newsreaders appear regularly on many Afghan channels, but an entire station for women is a novelty. Its arrival highlights the fact that behind the daily stories of violence, change is taking place in Afghanistan, even if it is often slow and patchy.

"I am so happy that this TV station has been created for women because there are women in our society who are not aware of their rights," said 20-year-old Khatira Ahmadi, a producer at the station.

"So this station represents women and we work to raise the voice of women so they can defend their rights," she said.

Women's rights and education as well as media freedom are often cited by the government and foreign aid organizations as among the biggest achievements in the country since the Taliban was toppled in 2001.

Meet the groundbreaking women and see behind the scenes:

12 PHOTOS
Afghan women break ground with TV station launch
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Afghan women break ground with TV station launch
Shamela Rasooli, 22, Afghan presenter, adjusts her headscarf as she records her morning TV programme at the Zan TV station (women's TV) in Kabul, Afghanistan May 8, 2017. Picture taken May 8, 2017.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Afghan staff of Zan TV station (women's TV) discuss in their newsroom in Kabul, Afghanistan May 8, 2017. Picture taken May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Shamla Neazi, 20, Afghan presenter, receives make-up before her broadcast at the Zan TV station (women's TV) in Kabul, Afghanistan May 8, 2017. Picture taken May 8, 2017.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Rozena Khatebi, news director of the Zan TV station (women's TV) works on her computer in Kabul, Afghanistan May 8, 2017. Picture taken May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Krishma Naz, 22, presenter, records her programme at the Zan TV (women's TV) in Kabul, Afghanistan May 8, 2017. Picture taken May 8, 2017.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Shamela Rasooli, 22, Afghan presenter, records her morning TV programme at the Zan TV station (women's TV) in Kabul, Afghanistan May 8, 2017. Picture taken May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Afghan presenters record their morning programme at the Zan TV station (women's TV) in Kabul, Afghanistan May 8, 2017. Picture taken May 8, 2017.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Khatira Ahmadi (R), 20, producer of Zan TV (women's TV) station, works in the editing room in Kabul, Afghanistan May 8, 2017. Picture taken May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Krishma Naz, 22, presenter of a music show, sits during recording at the Zan TV station (women's TV) in Kabul, Afghanistan May 8, 2017. Picture taken May 8, 2017.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Khatira Ahmadi (R), 20, producer of Zan TV station (women's TV), adjusts the headscarf of a presenter before recording in Kabul, Afghanistan May 8, 2017. Picture taken May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
Zan TV station (women's TV) employees attend morning meeting in Kabul, Afghanistan May 8, 2017. Picture taken May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
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Still, Afghanistan is one of the most difficult places in the world for women in the media, and in a poor and war-ravaged country -- with a crowded TV landscape of around 40 stations -- there is no guarantee of success.

Media entrepreneur Hamid Samar, the founder of Zan TV, said he was banking on potentially large female audiences in big cities like Kabul who are hungry for news and discussion that reflect their own experiences.

"There has been a lot of talk about women's rights and media rights," he said. "But we've never seen anything special for women and that's why we've done this."

Zan TV runs on a shoestring using low-cost digital technology and operating out of a basic studio in Kabul, focusing on talk shows along with some programs on health and music.

It relies heavily on a team of mainly young women, many of them students. Youth and enthusiasm make up for what it lacks in experience.

Around 16 male technicians work behind the scenes in areas like graphics, camera operation and editing, as well as teaching female colleagues who have little access to media training.

Some of the female staff like Ahmadi have had to cope with disapproving family members or even brush aside threats in order to pursue their media careers.

But for Ahmadi, among the few staff members with prior television experience, giving a new generation of women a chance to work in media is a major benefit of the station.

"I came to share my experience with colleagues here and I am really happy working along with the other girls," she said.

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