Tue. Sep 27th, 2022

In the room with the Taliban: words from one of the only female reporters left in Afghanistan

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This article is part of a Fox News Digital series examining the consequences of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan one year ago this week.

Life under Taliban rule has had a crippling effect in Afghanistan as women have seen their rights to education and employment stripped from them – in some instances by force. 

The suppression of basic human rights has largely been enforced through intimidation and overt threats, however one 32-year-old female journalist told Fox News Digital these efforts have not staunched her determination to continue working under Taliban rule.

“I tell them, ‘Don’t consider me as a woman, consider me as a journalist’,” Meena Habib told Fox News Digital from her Kabul home with the help of a translator. “I’m still active on a daily basis performing my duty. Despite all these restrictions I continue to be loyal to my people and my profession.”

Afghan journalist Meena Habib works following Taliban takeover.

Afghan journalist Meena Habib works following Taliban takeover.

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Habib has become one of Afghanistan’s last female reporters, and she has continued to push for access to Taliban-led press conferences since the insurgent group took over one year ago.

In pictures shared with Fox News Digital, Habib is seen sitting on a carpeted floor donning a traditional hijab to cover her hair and large sunglasses so that just her nose peeks out from her dark garb as she takes notes. She appears to be the only woman in the crowded room.

The image is not a rare occurrence Habib said, explaining that she often finds herself “the only female journalist sitting around [with] the militants in the Taliban.”

“They tell me you have nothing to do with journalism as a woman,” she said, describing her attempts to gain access to Taliban-led meetings and press events.

Meena Habib sits in Taliban led press conference.

Meena Habib sits in Taliban led press conference.

The journalism industry throughout Afghanistan saw a sharp decline in activity over the last year with 60% of the media work force having ceased their activity – but women were impacted the most, according to findings by Reporters Without Borders

Over 76% of female journalists lost their jobs since Kabul fell to the Taliban. Those who have remained are subject to Taliban’s “11 rules of journalism,” which discourages any reporting that “could have a negative impact on the public’s attitude.”

Habib, who explained that most women have stopped reporting from the field, described for Fox News Digital numerous threatening encounters she has faced amid her attempts to cover life in Afghanistan, including earlier this month. 

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Meena Habib is one of the few remaining female journalists continuing her work following Taliban takeover.

Meena Habib is one of the few remaining female journalists continuing her work following Taliban takeover.

“A Taliban [man] came towards me with a machete and wanted to hit my camera,” she said describing the moment Taliban officials took coordinated action to disperse dozens of women who took to the streets of Kabul this month to demand the return of their basic human rights.

“The Taliban [were] preventing journalists from taking pictures,” she added. 

Habib was able to flee the scene but fell during the chaos and hurt her leg, though her camera this time was spared she said.

The scene earlier this month echoed similar events that took place on September 8, 2021, just one day after the Taliban announced its “caretaker government” and hundreds of Afghan women hit the streets for a women’s rights rally.

The events that unfolded one week following the official U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan laid out the “tense” future Habib and others would face under the Taliban.

“[The] Taliban arrested me and broke my camera,” she said.  “They beat me.”

Habib did not allow the day’s events or any of the subsequent threats against her life stop her from continuing her work. 

“This is a mission for me,” she said. 

Meena Habib sits surrounded by Taliban members

Meena Habib sits surrounded by Taliban members

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Habib’s persistence has paid off in some instances, and she has gained access to some government events and press conferences – though not always without reprisal. 

“Some of the Taliban members had a good relationship with us,” she explained, referring to previous relations she and others shared with Taliban media officials. 

Former spokesman of the Ministry of Interior, Saeed Khosti, was fired after a December 2021 journalism conference where he posed for a picture with Habib and two other women. 

The other female reporters were also fired from their positions, and Habib was forced to hide out after she received threatening calls from someone she suspected was in the Taliban. 

“They bother female journalists – harassment,” she explained. “To terrify them.”

Habib told Fox News Digital she could have fled Afghanistan during the U.S.’s withdrawal, but she decided to stay, saying she will not stop her work until restrictions on women and the media are lifted.

Meena Habib and others pose for picture in December 2021 with the former spokesman of the Ministry of Interior before he was terminated.

Meena Habib and others pose for picture in December 2021 with the former spokesman of the Ministry of Interior before he was terminated.

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“This is a man ruling country,” she said. “Of course, there are threats of arrest or further trouble. I chose this profession – it’s not a country that is friendly to journalists. But despite all these threats I remain committed to my profession, and I continue working.”

Fox News Digital asked if Habib would like her identity concealed for her protection, but she refused and said, “I stand by my comments.”

“Woman mostly suffer,” she added. “But they need access to information and as a female journalist I’m trying to provide whatever information is possible.”



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