Riz Khan on Afghan Women

The recent cover of Time magazine featuring the photo of Aisha has sparked debate about the US presence in Afghanistan and what it means for women’s rights there. Here at MMW, the overwhelming sentiment seems to be that the image is yellow journalism at its finest, reinforcing the antiquated rhetoric of “saving women” and exploiting Afghan women by intimating that US occupation has kept Afghan women safe.

Riz Khan of Al Jazeera seems to be cognizant of the sensationalistic effects of the image. In a recent episode of his self-titled show, he addresses “Women’s Rights in Afghanistan.” Khan discusses the Time image as well as whether the foreign military presence in Afghanistan is helping or hurting Afghan women.

Viewers are introduced to Khan’s two guests: Wazhma Frogh and Gayle Lemmon. Wazhma Frogh is an Afghan activist who received the U.S. State Department’s 2009 International Woman of Courage Award for her work on human rights in Afghanistan.

Also there to weigh in was American author Gayle Lemmon, who has written a book on Afghanistan titled: The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, which tells the story of an Afghan girl whose business created jobs for more than 100 women in Kabul during the Taliban years.

The first half of the show discusses the Time cover image as Riz Khan poses the question of whether the picture hurts the image of Afghan women. Frogh believes that

“By showing images as such we actually detach the social realities that deteriorate the situation of Afghan women on the ground; we actually remove the situation of Afghan woman from a social perspective [and] from a governance perspective. The more accountability is fading from Afghanistan, the more we see that such acts are happening so I don’t know how much it can help. It might help one person to get her out of Afghanistan, but what happens to the hundreds of Afghan women who go through the same or worse situation on a daily basis.”

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Al Jazeera’s Wardrobe Malfunction

The Short version:

Time: A few months ago.

Action: Eight female journalists working for Al Jazeera network signed an official complaint against Deputy Editor Ayman Jaballah, stating that they have been harassed by his comments on their appearance.

Reaction: The network ordered an investigation.


Time: Last month.

Action: The network reported it was within its legal rights to dictate the appearance of its on-air presenters.

Reaction: Five of the eight presenters quit in protest.

The Long version:

Lina Zahreddine, one of the five Al Jazeera presenters to resign. Image via Al Jazeera.

In an action that was described as first of its kind in the world of Arab satellite channels, last January eight female presenters for the Al Jazeera network filed an official complaint against Ayman Jaballah, a deputy editor known for his conservative views and his ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, according to the Lebanese daily Al Safir. Jaballah allegedly harassed them because their clothing and makeup were not modest enough. The result of the network’s investigation into the matter defended Jaballah:

“The on-screen style and general appearance of broadcasters and announcers are the legal right of the network to determine and develop,” it ruled, adding that it had to take into account “the spirit and principles of the channel and the image it wishes to present”. (sic)

“Al Jazeera, in line with its policy of rejecting arm-twisting, has accepted the resignation of the five rebellious presenters,” an official from Al Jazeera told Al Quds Al Arabi. Al Jazeera also appointed Jaballah (whose attitudes were cited in the petition by the presenters as a major cause for their resignation), head of the Al Jazeera Live channel.

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A War of Women: Al Jazeera’s Lebanon’s Women Warriors

Al Jazeera recently aired a piece titled Lebanon’s Women Warriors, which features the testimonies and stories of eight women who fought against occupying forces from 1975-1990 in Lebanon.

The film offers a unique perspective: it shows the role women played in the war, the unconventional weapons they used, and ways they fought. Perhaps the most striking thing about the piece is that it shows the relationship between women and violence in a way that is not typically expressed.

Wafa'a Nasrallah and her daughters. Image from Al Jazeera.

This period was marked by civil war within Lebanon with the Southern region being polarized by the influx of Palestinian refugees and the presence of the PLO, followed by the presence of Israeli forces. In addition to the presence foreign forces, there was fighting among Christian, Shi’a Muslim, and Sunni Muslim militias, and even between these militias and social, nationalist and communist movements. Needless to say, alliances shifted erratically.

The women in the documentary were mobilized by various causes. They differed in their religious backgrounds: some are Christian, others are Muslim, and a few seem to be irreligious, choosing to align themselves with communist and nationalist socio-political movements instead. The one thing they had in common, however, was that they fought at the front lines alongside other women and men.

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