In the autumn of 2022, I was introduced to a young Afghan journalist in London. Zahra Joya had fled Kabul a year before as the Taliban swept through the city. As the Editor-in-Chief of Rukhshana Media, a website she set up with her own savings to tell the stories of women and girls in Afghanistan, Zahra was a Taliban target.
Sitting outside (post-Covid) in a rainy Covent Garden, she told me about the evacuation: “I was in the middle of the plane and couldn’t see out of the windows to get a final glimpse of my beloved Kabul”.
From a London hotel room, she was still editing Rukhshana, but also arranging education for her 15-year-old brother, supporting her three sisters who were learning English and finding a nursery for her niece. Add to journalist and editor, a new role as head of the family in exile. By this time the family had spent almost a year in a comfortable hotel but had no home cooked meals.
“Take over my kitchen for a day,” I offered, which resulted in a memorable fusion of Afghan ‘bolani’ and a South African ‘braai’. So started my introduction to Rukhshana and since then the team and I at Thomson Foundation have supported this brave and vital news outlet.
I was in the middle of the plane and couldn’t see out of the windows to get a final glimpse of my beloved Kabul
I spent my career in international newsrooms. I know how quickly the focus moves from one crisis to another. The Taliban take-over in Kabul, prompted much support for journalists in the immediate months. But the challenge two years on is even harder. The situation for women and girls in Afghanistan, is dire and continues to deteriorate.
Donors give to organisations like Rukhshana Media, but the reporting and due diligence involved to raise more funds to keep publishing, is a big burden for an organisation that is essentially in survival mode. Then there is the governance and operational implications of setting up an infrastructure in exile. Opening a bank account is difficult enough – imagine navigating that in a new country with a foreign language and multiple hoops to jump through.
Thomson Foundation has assisted Zahra and Rukhshana with advice around issues of finance, governance and structure, also helping to assemble a fantastic board of dedicated trustees who now advises Rukhshana Media and Zahra as she builds a sustainable future.
The situation for women and girls in Afghanistan, is dire and continues to deteriorate.
At Thomson Foundation, we believe passionately in the value of trusted journalism and the critical role it plays in communities and in democracies. Supporting independent media operating in very difficult situations, needs a long-term commitment. At Thomson, we help after the first rush is over. We do this work not only with Rukhshana, but with other media organisations too sensitive to mention. Why? Because they do vital, needed journalism.
Rukhshana won’t let the world forget the women and girls of Afghanistan, deprived of education and opportunity. And we at Thomson Foundation, won’t forget journalists like Zahra, who tell these stories long after the first attention has faded.