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April 24th, 2009

Training Afghan women to tell their own stories

Posted by Reza

In 2001, world-renowned photojournalist Reza Deghati (known simply as Reza by most) founded Aina, an international non-profit organization based in Afghanistan that cultivates a well-trained independent media in order to promote democracy and to help heal post-conflict societies. In this post he explains the special importance of Afghan women being able to report their own stories. Don’t miss his earlier posts about his experiences as a photojournalist in war-torn countries and how journalists can heal war wounds.
Afganistan seen through a woman's burka, by Aina-trained photojournalist Farzana Wahidy.

Afganistan seen through a woman's burka, by Aina-trained photojournalist Farzana Wahidy.

As a photojournalist I have observed an important thing, that most coverage of world events — especially in places like Afghanistan –- is done by white men between 30 and 40 year old. All those male journalists do interviews with Afghan men but have no access to the lives of the other 50% of the Afghan population. What about Afghan women’s stories? Who can tell them? Even if you have one or two women journalists there, the minute they have their own male interpreter and bodyguards, they cannot go inside the houses. They may be able to go inside some open-minded families’ houses, but they are are only talking to a tiny percentage of Afghan women. So who is the best to cover Afghan women? The Afghan women themselves.

This was how we started the Aina video project for Afghan women, asking them to make documentaries. The first ever documentary like this was called Afghanistan Unveiled. We trained seven Afghan women to hold a  camera for the first time, and nine months later their film was shown on PBS, the National Geographic channel, more than 20 international channels, at festivals…everywhere. In 2005 it was nominated for an Emmy award as one of four best foreign documentaries. It was because the story was totally different from what we’d heard before. The women knew where to go and who to talk to and how to express themselves. We also had one of Aina’s former student, Farzana Wahidy, who got the National Geographic All Roads honor. She was the first Afghan female photojournalist to receive this award.

“Who can tell Afghan women’s stories? The Afghan women themselves.”

In these ways we continued to develop the idea that Aina was founded on. Then one day the UN came to us saying, Reza, what would be the best tool to send out messages to the maximum number of people in the villages and cities? Obviously, as a visual person, I came up with this idea, which was used before in many countries a long time ago, of the mobile cinema project. We have mobile units going from village to village, school to school, with big screens and nice projectors. And Aina students make films that are informative and educational. It connected the population immediately and the whole cycle became local.

We also created a children’s magazine designed to provide both children and their families with important  information. It’s not an entertainment magazine; it’s about understanding each other and the whole world, which is especially important in this part of the world. so little-by-little this children’s magazine and women’s radio have become our main projects.

I think that the 21st century needs a new humanitarian organization, and for me this is Aina. I call it a “third-generation” humanitarian organization. It’s not giving people bread; it’s helping them to make their own bread. The big difference between all the existing NGOs and what we are doing is that we want to train local people, help them to become independent completely, to take their countries in their own hands — and then we leave.

“Aina has trained 1,000 Afghans, three to four hundred of whom are women.”

So today, after almost nine years in existence, here are some very brief figures: Aina has trained 1,000 Afghans, three to four hundred of whom are women. The first Afghan independent media, called Kabul Weekly, is still going on, and it’s highly respected. We launched an Afghan women’s radio station; we launched a kids’ magazine; we have this production unit making films. And we created the first Afghan photo agency, AINA Photo Agency. It’s an independent photo agency, whose shareholders are the photographers that we trained. They are the owners of their own agency. Kabul Weekly is 100-percent independent media that seldom needs outside help.

By creating a national messaging system, we’ve created all the tools now to replace these psychologists we would need to help people in war-torn countries heal. But the biggest result will be long term. When you start educating women and girls, you are educating the next generation of mothers to educate their children. And we not only trained 1,000 people who then found fantastic jobs, we also created jobs.That’s why Aina, as the first of this kind of organization in the world, has such a positive outcome. That’s why in 2009, with the help of the National Geographic Mission Program and for which they named me a fellow of the National Geographic society, I’m going to launch an international organization to bring the most important aspects of Aina to other countries.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Do you think there is a noticeable difference between the images men versus women make of other women? What about people from the same culture versus a different one?


  1. April 24th, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Training Afghan women to tell their own stories | The Click

    […] Check it out here. […]

  2. April 25th, 2009 at 6:03 am



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