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Female photographer fights taboos

By Farhad Naibkhel-Despite improvement in different sectors and restoration of the democratic setup after the ouster of the Taliban from power, Afghan society still remains conservative regarding women. In the past decade a very few women had succeeded in achieving their big dreams, especially female photojournalists. Working as a journalist in a conflict zone is always a tightrope walk, especially for young women. However, Afghanistan is more challenging. Although, working as a freelance photographer highlights important issues and encourages people to fight against obsolete social norms and taboos, but still females working as photojournalists face social barriers across the country.

“Despite some progress still social attitudes remain traditional, pushing women squarely aside from the society,” said Masoma Jafari, a freelance photojournalist.

Talking to Afghanistan Times, she said that despite development and having democratic government, limitations are always there for women in different fields and areas, particularly remote parts of the country. Ms Jafari said that though there are opportunities in Kabul but due to some limitations as a photographer she cannot go alone to capture movements and emotions of people that tell different stories and show the real picture of the society.

She said that when she takes camera as a female photographer and go out for taking pictures, after walking for a few minutes she realize that some people are following her. When she turns back she sees boys following her.

“So during photography, when I am followed by boys it becomes a big problem for me even it can be a threat for me. A photographer loses his concentration from the subject, when bothered by others. My goal is to be a good social photographer and show culture of different tribes to the world. I also want to show positive image of Afghanistan,” she maintained.

She believes that as a social photographer she needs to walk alongside streets and take pictures from different angles and reflect different cultures, but see big barriers ahead. Some people including street children annoy me when walking on the street with camera, she said.

“Once I wanted to go to Bagh-e-Babur to take pictures. When I was walking towards the garden, I encountered an unforgettable even. Up to eight children, standing at the other side of the road, pelted stones at me and shouted that I should not take camera in hand and come out for photography,” she recalled.

No doubt, Jafari should be concerned over her safety because the society is unable to give due rights to women and let them to chose their career. In many cases cost of reasoning is too high, even it could cost life as we have seen in Farkhanda’s case when she was killed and burnt for reasoning. Though, this violent behavior is neither permitted by the religion of Islam nor Afghan culture, but it is practiced as the over three-decade of violence have deep imprints over public minds. People remained away from education and were brought in an environment that was more about bloodshed then peace. For this we have to blame the international community, our neighboring countries, leaders, religious scholars and the local elders. The wise leaders never let the nation to go in a wrong direction. What is experienced by Jafari and other girls is wrong and could not be justified. Their good manners are often taken for weakness.

She complained that she is often harassed by people but she did not lose patience. She often asks the children that whether they want to take pictures. In many cases the reply is positive and Ms Jafari takes their pictures to give a positive message and stop them from following her. It is absolutely necessary for a photojournalist to focus on the subject while getting rid of the chasers. Time and focus is of the essence in journalism like other several professions.

Working in a conflict zone is a herculean task. One has to be prepared mentally that he could be grilled for entering into high security areas. She recalls that once she went Shah-e-Do Shamshira shrine to take pictures and a man approached her and asked about her identity card. “He asked me that what I was doing here. I told him that I am a photojournalist and this is my identify card. Despite showing my ID card, he was creating problems for me. The person who may be an agent of the secret services told me that don’t take pictures of the street because the president will go through this route. In response I told that the president will go through every street does it mean that I shall not take pictures? It is insane,” she resented.

As a social and cultural photographer Jafari needs to travel to different provinces and take pictures. However, how can she go to remote areas when she is not spared in the capital city, Kabul? Acceptability has become a rare element. She is accompanied by her husband when she goes out at night time to capture the subjects in frames. These are the issues that impede her progress.

Despite the development that have been made in the past decade, still Afghanistan is a closed and conservative society for girls and women, particularly those who want to work outside, she insisted, adding that she love her profession, so despite challenges she would continue to work with the limitations. “I will try to fight the taboos and keep going forward. In addition taking pictures relevant to the culture, I will try to show women from men’s point of view in my pictures. In a conservative society we can find big difference between a housewife and a woman doing job outside,” she underlined.

Responding to a question Jafari said that she would try to encourage women and attract them towards photography as a profession.

Jafari learn photography in Iran at the Cinema Jawan Association. For the last four years she is working as a freelance photojournalist in Kabul. She also gives training to help boys and girls to learn professional photography. She wants to start making documentaries in near future.

She urged the governmental and non-governmental organizations to launch photography training programs for young people in the country. She also requested people to allow women to pursue their profession without any let or hindrance.


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