Zahra Joya is the founder of Rukhshana Media, an online news agency which focuses entirely on issues impacting the women of Afghanistan.
When Zahra was five-years-old (in the 1990s), the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, severely restricting women’s rights in the process, including banning girls’ education. Zahra continued to attend school wearing boy’s clothing before enrolling as a law student and, eventually, becoming a journalist. Following the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, Zahra was forced to flee Afghanistan and now lives as a refugee in the UK, managing Rukhshana remotely.
Zahra Joya was recognised last night (20 September) at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Goalkeepers 2022 ceremony, where she won the Changemaker Award.
Goalkeepers is a multi-year campaign which brings together a diverse community of global leaders and changemakers who are advancing progress toward the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Zahra was recognised for her efforts in processing gender equality in Afghanistan.
Here, she speaks to GLAMOUR about how she founded Rukhshana and how she envisions a better life for the women of Afghanistan.
GLAMOUR: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today. Can you explain how and why you started Rukhshana Media?
Zahra: I started Rukhshana Media in 2020. At that time, our goal was simple: to give a platform for women in Afghanistan and to give young female journalists a chance. We wanted to share the history of women’s lives and experiences in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is a patriarchal society, and women don’t have enough time to talk or work together.
We wanted to give Afghan women the time and platform to write about anything they wanted. Our time in Afghanistan was very short. The Taliban took power very quickly, and after that, we’ve just tried to write for our own freedom. Everything has changed… Right now, we have to work with male and female journalists in Afghanistan to cover all the stories that are happening in Afghan women’s lives. We want to record it for history.
We want to inform the world about what is happening in my country.
What is the inspiration for the name Rukhshana Media?
Unfortunately, during the 20 years [before the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan], we lost women to domestic violence, Taliban violence, and because of terrorist violence in the country. Rukhshana was a young woman who tried to flee from a forced marriage. In 2015, the Taliban arrested her and stoned her to death. I talked with her friends and family, and her brother told me that they don’t have the opportunity to raise their voices; that they miss her, a lot; and that it’s very painful memory for them.
What does an average day consist of working in Rukshana Media?
It’s difficult to say what a normal day consists of during this time. [After the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan] on 15 August 2021, I have been busy every day. I’m working in exile. My brave colleagues who are on the ground in Afghanistan are in contact with me – we are trying to raise the voice of Afghan women. It is very hard and difficult, but I know this is the time we have to fight.
When I was in Afghanistan before the Taliban took power, we had hope; we wanted to continue our work. But unfortunately, it was very short. It is a high-risk [situation]. My colleagues are facing too many challenges – especially the security problems, but they are brave and they give me hope. They have told me, “We will continue.”
You’ve said in the past, “Journalism is not a job, it is a responsibility”. Can you tell me more about what that quote means to you?