By Almudena Toral
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The Afghan blogosphere is small but female practitioners say their words are closely monitored. The backlash to what they say helps define a range of off-limit topics, from criticizing religion to advocating for women's rights.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Shaharzad Akbar mulled it over a million times before pressing the "publish" button on April 4, 2007.
What went online then, to her blog in Farsi called "Mesle Aab, Mesle Aatash (Like Water, Like Fire)," was the first part of a series of posts called "insulting love," which she says has brought the worst backlash since she started blogging in 2006.
"The post argued that most Afghan popular songs and poetry portrayed a weak image of women and addressed them as property or an object rather than a full, intelligent human being," said Akbar, a 22-year-old graduate student at Oxford University in England, in an email interview.
Though she currently lives outside of Afghanistan, Akbar considers herself to be part of a slowly growing blogosphere of Afghan women writing about women's issues, politics and culture. As with other female bloggers, she takes advantage of a technology that affords them a rare opportunity for self-expression in a male-dominated culture.
Her blog post that day drew threats and "disrespectful, patronizing or outright insulting comments," she said. One male reader even created a blog dedicated to defaming her and accusing her and other female activists of being prostitutes.
Zahra Sadt, another blogger, posts a profile image of herself showing a middle-aged, dark-haired, unveiled woman who half smiles at the camera. She uses an alias in her blog that used to be her pen name when she was a reporter.
Sadt says when she can she blogs about issues such as poverty, the roots of prostitution, politics and the situation of women in Afghan jails. But "clear writing in Afghanistan is not easy and sometimes is not possible," she said.
"With blog writing I wanted to say to people--especially Afghan men who don't accept women as active members of society in Afghanistan--we are writing about what we are," Sadt said in an e-mail interview.
Sadt is a member of the Association of Afghan Blog Writers, which was started in 2006 by a male freelance journalist named Nasim Fekrat, one of the country's star online pundits.
The blog writers organization, created after another blogger was detained for content he posted, offers a glimpse of the small online world in a country where access to the Internet and electricity is scarce and society is male-oriented.
"From 280 [members], more than 15 are women," Fekrat said.
Numbers, in general, are not easy to come by.
Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-headquartered organization devoted to protecting journalists worldwide, had no blogger figures for Afghanistan.
Charmaine Anderson, country director of the Afghanistan base of Internews, an international media development organization based in Arcata, Calif., and Washington, D.C., said the last numbers they've seen are from 2009; they suggested the country has about 2,500 active bloggers.
"I don't have a lot of information regarding women bloggers specifically," he said.
Sadt said she created two blogs in 2006. One was more feminist, intended to respond to radical Afghan Muslims. She said she had to delete this blog because of continuous threats. The other, the one she still updates, mixes journalistic and personal issues.
"I couldn't write some things that I felt are important for Afghan people," Sadt said, referring to her current blog called Hugger-mugger notes. "We can't write topics that we want because we're not safe."
Both Sadt and Akbar said their women's rights posts sparked the most threatening reactions and letters.
"I got many discouraging comments, especially when I wrote about women's issues and identity," Akbar said.