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Zahra Joya        

Afghan Journalist, Feminist & Founder of Rukhshana Media

Zahra Joya was 5 years old when the Taliban took power in Afghanistan and banned girls’ education. Undeterred, she dressed in boys’ clothing and walked two hours to and from school every day. After the U.S. invasion in 2001, she dropped her disguise, finished her schooling, and enrolled as a law student, before discovering her calling as a journalist.

Afghanistan has long been an extremely dangerous place to be a female journalist. According to Reporters Without Borders, 80% of women journalists have lost their jobs since the collapse of the Afghan government in August.

In December 2020, Joya founded Rukhshana Media, the country's first feminist news agency. She had been motivated to do so after a friend's suggestion, and due to the responses of her male colleagues regarding the lack of female journalists. The outlet was named Rukhshana to honor a 19-year-old girl who was stoned to death by the Taliban in 2015 in Ghor Province. The girl was sentenced to death for having eloped with a lover after her family had arranged a marriage for her. Joya's aim was to bring light to the reality of life for Afghan women with stories published and reported on by local female journalists, covering issues like rape and forced marriage. She established Rukhshana Media with her own savings but had to launch an online fundraiser to keep operations running. She was critical of the Taliban and reported on their crackdown on female public servants in the months before the US and its allies withdrew their troops. A few days before the country fell to the Taliban, she collaborated with The Guardian to publish the Women Report Afghanistan project, reporting on the Taliban takeover. Joya and her colleagues received a number of threats for their journalism.

Due to her reporting and because of the Taliban's longtime persecution of Hazaras, Joya was a target of the Taliban. Fearing for her life, she decided to flee the country. She received an evacuation notice from the British government and was eventually airlifted to London. She continues to run Rukhshana Media in exile, and remains in contact with her team who send her reports from Afghanistan in secret. Most female Afghan journalists were forced to leave their jobs after the takeover.

Joya was one of 12 women named Time's Women of the Year in 2022. She was recognized for her journalism, and was interviewed by Angelina Jolie.

Rukhshana Media received the Marie Colvin Award at the British Journalism Awards 2021.


Zahra Joya on Telling Stories of Afghan Women | TIME
Zahra Joya Fled the Taliban. She's Still Telling the Stories of Afghan Women

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