When you believe in something that’s bigger than yourself you fight to make yourself heard.
Journalist Roberta Staley is fighting for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Having traveled undercover to Afghanistan on several occasions, she took risky chances trying to create positive change. She’s responsible for the award winning documentary entitled “Mightier than the Sword” which has helped enpower women over there by giving them a voice to be heard. A major accomplishment.
I first met Roberta in a Spanish class over coffee in 2012 and was intrigued when she said she’d be leaving for a few weeks to go on assignment for Elle Magazine. In Afghanistan no less.
The Story (in brief)
Roberta went back to Afghanistan three years later to tell the story of Mozhdah Jamalzadah, a regular person here and a superstar in Afghanistan, where she’s a powerful voice for women similar to that of Oprah. The Vancouver raised woman is actually referred to as the Oprah of Afghanistan.
This 48-minute documentary focuses on Afghan female journalists and filmmakers and their impact on gender perceptions and gender equality. In Afghanistan, a significant advance since the fall of the Taliban has been the entry of women into the media as reporters, directors, writers, producers and authors.
Excerpt by Lucas Aykroyd from Vancouver Magazine:
The powerful debut by Vancouver filmmaker Roberta Staley examines the impact of female media personalities in Afghanistan’s fight for gender equality. Staley, an award-winning editor and longtime contributor to Vancouver magazine, created the new 48-minute film to complete her Master’s degree in graduate liberal studies at SFU. After spending three weeks in 2012 in the Central Asian nation on assignment for Elle, she returned there in 2015 to shoot Mightier Than the Sword in 35 C weather during Ramadan. Staley remortgaged her condo to finish the film, which cost her more than $80,000. “That’s what you do when you believe in something,” she says. “I was obsessed with telling this story about the media and how it was changing gender perceptions and gender equality.”
“CHANGE will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” ― Barack Obama
The Obama Administration said it over and over to the women of Afghanistan: “We will not abandon you. We will stand with you.”
Since the fall of the Taliban, women in Afghanistan are now starting to stand up for themselves by opening small businesses and rejoining the workforce. Three million girls are back in school and have taken their seats in universities. Things are slowly getting better but there is still plenty of room for improvement. More than half of school-age girls cannot access classrooms and only 20% of young women are literate.
Last week I attended a multimedia fundraising event called “Afghanistan Rising” presented by journalist Roberta Staley (who I met in our weekly Spanish speaking group) & Tallulah Photography. Roberta & Tallulah travelled to Kabul & surrounding areas to document the resurgence of education, gender equality, culture, fashion (see below – Zarif Designs) and civil society in Afghanistan. It was most interesting and educational for me (others attending agreed) to see the progress that has been made in the last decade and also how much is at stake. Most people are aware that when the Taliban were in power woman had virtually no rights. Any woman could be severally punished for as little as wearing the least amount of makeup or nail polish to even the sound of clicking heels. An affair would mean getting stoned to death. Of course education for women was forbidden. It is overwhelming what we take for granted here in North America – how lucky we are by comparison. I can’t imagine living life having to tread so lightly and being vigilant with every single move.
They visited a beauty parlour where only the wives of Taliban members could previously go to get their hair & makeup done for weddings or in general. Even now, the only woman who would allow herself to be photographed was someone visiting from the U.K. who happened to be there to attend a wedding. No wonder they’re so careful. It takes time for the mindset to change after being suppressed for so long. Maybe we can do something to help make a positive change.
“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” ― Mahatma Gandhi
The greatest investment that can be made in Afghanistan’s future is the investment in education, teacher training and through library and literacy programs.
“EDUCATION is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”― Nelson Mandela
The good news is that donations are providing funds to set up mini libraries and science labs and supporting literacy classes for small communities in Afghanistan. This is done by a joint initiative with a Foundation in the UK & Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan. Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan (CW4WA) is a member-based, not-for-profit organization founded in 1996 with thirteen volunteer chapters across Canada. It is a non-religious, non-political, federally registered charity. The main goals are to advance education for Afghan women and their families and to educate Canadians about human rights in Afghanistan.
Many brave women have entered civil society in Afghanistan as businesspersons, educators and politicians since the Taliban were routed from Kabul by NATO-led forces. Few, however, have done it more beautifully than Zolaykha Sherzad, the founder of Zarif Designs in Kabul. (Zarif means ‘precious in the Dari language.)
Sherzad has collected fabrics and bought traditional pieces of clothing from the marketplace for her designs. “I re-cut, reshaped and recreated 20 pieces for a pilot fashion show,” says the slight, dark-haired 44-year-old. The positive response to that initial fashion show led to the creation of Zarif Designs in 2005. Soon, Sherzad’s clothes were soon being soldinternationally at agnès b. stores in Paris, New York and London and worn by such notables as Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai. Sherzad continues to use Afghanistan textiles and embroidery accessories like buttons cast from ancient Persian coins.
Sherzad has also created a ready-to-wear clothing line, introducing the Afghan public to the concept of sizes—a radical shift for a nation that has depended upon tailor-made garments.