Our Interview With A Pioneer Women’s Magazine Editor From Afghanistan Is A Must-Read


This story about a woman who has endured far more than many of us ever will, is a testament to the power and the importance of media, especially in countries where it becomes the only voice for groups of people who are not being heard by the rest of the world.

Raofa Ahrary hails from Afghanistan and now lives in the United States with members of her family, including her daughter Ariya. We were initially made aware of Raofa’s story after posting an article about a radio station in Afghanistan which was one of the first places attacked by the Taliban in Kunduz in the Fall of 2015.

This was no ordinary station. It was largely run by women, and the majority of broadcast programs were by women, for women and allowed women’s issues to be discussed in a forum not commonly seen in the country. It was a stark reminder that the Taliban still want to silence women’s voices and will stop at nothing.

After posting this story on our site and sharing it with our Twitter followers, Ariya Ahrary reached out to us to let us know about her mother, who worked on what is said to be one of the first women’s magazines in Afghanistan. We were immediately interested in talking with her. Ariya was kind enough to translate between us and her mother, and we got to know a brilliant, determined, and brave woman whose story needs to shared with the world.

Afghanistan is now technically a democracy and no longer run by the Taliban or under Soviet rule, but it is fairly common knowledge that is is still very much a place where women’s rights are not automatic, oppression in some cases has not been erased, and equal opportunities are still being fought for.

Raofa grew up under multiple instances of political strife. In 1975 President Dawood Khan over threw King Zahir Shah. Then in the late 1970s the Communist regime took over and assassinated President Khan. Raofa’s husband Fazal Ahmad Ahrary, a university professor, was taken to a political prison along with other professors in 1979. In 2012 the Dutch government located the war criminals who imprisoned innocent people and killed them in the Pule Charkhi prison in the early 80’s. Among the 5000 prisoners rescued was Raofa’s husband, as well as many students and women. It’s a shocking reminder how educated people are treated in some parts of the world.


“My life experiences was not easy. I had to escape Afghanistan when my children were teenagers and my daughter was 5 years old. We needed to sneak out of Afghanistan during the Russian war. My oldest and youngest son went to Germany first with other family members. I and two other sons went to Iran trying to meet my other sons in Germany later. Iran was at war with Iraq at that time. I then learned my two sons went to U.S to make a living instead. My other three children then snuck into Pakistan living in different houses and waited until we were accepted as refugees in the U.S,” she said.

Raofa and her family left Afghanistan by the 80s while the Soviet war was still being waged. They were not in their home country during the next war which America was heavily involved in. Being an educated family, the Ahrary’s made the decision to flee to ensure their children would have opportunities that were not as easily accessible in Afghanistan anymore because of the war.

“When politics was about to change to communism we knew we were in danger. Many opposed to it and somewhere for it. There was a huge political divide. When the Russians invaded it got dangerous. When my husband never came back from prison it was time for me and my four sons and daughters to escape. I did not want my sons to be drafted to war to be forced to fight on either side. We were not a war family. We were more into universities and colleges. There was no experience and did not want my children to die,” said Raofa.

But moving to the US would not be the end of the tragedy for Raofa and her family.

“Four years after landing in the US I was diagnosed with cancer. I went through chemo. I became weak, but tried to stay strong for my family. During that time, my brother was killed in New York by an armed robber. A month later my nephew was killed by a drunk driver. I lost my oldest son to Parkinson’s disease three years ago in Hawaii. Five months later after we moved to Oregon, and my son passed away from heart failure,” she recalls.


Raofa grew up focused on her education which she knew would be vital in her life as a woman. We asked her what she studied and how she developed her skills which she used in the media.

“I studied Persian/Dari Literature along with Persian Philosophy and history of literature. It was very easy for me, because I was always interested in poetry since the first grade. I enjoyed going to school and learning poetry and telling stories to family. Not many women went to school, but they learned on their own,” she said.

Raofa was a woman lucky enough to grow up not feeling limited by gender barriers, something rare in such a conservative culture.

“In my family education was very important. There were no colleges in Herat, my hometown city, so I went to Kabul to go to the University. I was married then. My husband went to study Pharmacy and I decided on literature because I enjoyed poetry. It was in our genes to get an education no matter what gender you were. My parents made all of us go to school. There was no double standard,” she explained.

More recently, first lady Rhula Ghani has been championing a forthcoming Women’s University set to open in Kabul under the direction of her husband, President Ashraf Ghani. It marks a direct pivot toward focusing on women’s education under the current administration, something that is very welcome news.

The impact of education can easily be seen in Raofa’s story, where she began working at a woman’s magazine called Mehrie. Raofa grew up in Herat which is part of the Khorosan province. It is also well-known as the place where many poets, artists and well-educated people are from. Mehrie was an important vehicle for women’s issues. It was the first magazine in the Herat area and was sponsored by the government. The very first magazine in the country, however, was founded by Queen Soraya in 1920. It was called Ershad-E-Niswan (Guidance for Women) which gives you an idea of the strong history of women’s voices taking advantage of a public medium throughout Afghanistan’s history.


“The magazine was about marriages in Afghanistan. Poetry that other women wrote. Sometimes people wrote about women’s history of Afghanistan. Many schools were named after educated women around Afghanistan. Mostly in Herat. There were educational topics about women’s health. Such as pregnancy and puberty,” she said.

When we asked Raofa why media is very important to women in Afghanistan, she says it has enabled more women to speak up and be brave about what they are facing.

“Women are finding help by watching the media and seeing there are others like them who are brave to come forward about rape issues or forced marriages. There are more girls on Television interviewing men and women about women’s topics. They are bring experts about what the role of women is in the family. They talk about how much power a women actually has in the family. Those who have TV learn a lot. They also have cooking shows for both men and women. The media in Afghanistan is getting better,” she said.

Now that she has lived in the United States for at least a couple of decades and seen the influence of media in every day life here, Raofa has learned about the different types of struggles women face. In fact, she has even become aware of rights that women had in Afghanistan even before women in the United States!

“I see there are a lot of women’s issues we need to deal with in the U.S. I learned women were not allowed to own property nor vote in the U.S until 1920. Even though in Afghanistan there was monarchy, the women had many rights to own property and become leaders. Since my family were basically feminists meaning men and women were equal I thought it was the same in the U.S. Not a lot of families in Afghanistan were like my family where they treated both their sons and daughters equal. I always thought U.S gave women equal rights until I learned recently that women get paid less than men no matter what job they are in. I would not stand for that. If I did not retire I would demand equal pay to a male colleague,” she said.


It’s true. Thank to Senate Republicans continually voting down a law that would ensure greater measures to force employers to pay men and women the same, women are still paid less than men for doing the same job in many instances, according to the Department of Labor.

Raofa certainly doesn’t mince her words when commenting on the way a certain US political party treats women, and she has some pretty irrefutable experience to compare it to.

“The women in my family don’t sit down and take BS from men. We speak up. Now the Republican party is bringing Sharia Law in their politics even though that is the term they use to bring fear to their voters. Their ideologies about women are backwards. We need more women’s voice in the media. We live in a male-dominant society, but women prove that they are smart and intelligent too, as well as funny. I always joked with my students and friends about how the media wants to make women into sex objects with no brains. Now in both the U.S and Afghanistan I see that people are actually interviewing intelligent women and it gives courage to other young girls that they don’t have to be only beautiful to get attention. They don’t need to hide their intelligence anymore,” she said.

Given that we are in the middle of a heated political election, fueled by Donald Trump’s bigotry toward minorities such as Muslims, we asked Raofa her thoughts on what is unfolding right now, given that she comes from a country that has been ruled by communists, terrorists as well as democratically elected leaders. She believes Muslim women should continue to raise their voices loudly to combat the stigma perpetuated by someone like Trump.


“There are already wonderful women speaking up, but unfortunately the media is not interested. Instead they have made Donald Trump more popular. I don’t know too much about Donald Trump, because I don’t understand many things he is saying. When I watch Afghan news talking about him, I see that he is a very arrogant man who just wants to be popular. I only see him as an entertainer, but not a good one. I don’t know why a racist, misogynist, and arrogant TV personality can be ahead in the elections. I’m not used to this kind of election. I thought only intelligent people with good ideas and bringing people together could run for President,” she said.

She also believes Donald Trump didn’t create the Islamaphobia, it was already there and he simply ignited it.

“He made it like it’s okay to be racist and bigoted. He made it normal for people to think all Muslims are terrorists or Mexicans are bad. I saw on Youtube that they threw a Sikh person out of the rally and Donald Trump made fun of his turban. I saw in video how they treated African Americans and kicked them from their rally. This is all translated in Afghan media or Iranian media.  Even though Donald Trump claims that he is not racist or bigoted, he is not denouncing them. He is encouraging them. Women need to protest Donald Trump. Not only in his rallies but in newspapers and main stream media. It seems that the more people see Donald Trump the more attractive he seems. I think the more media has Muslim women among others on to talk about Donald Trump’s bigotry and misogyny, people will be more aware,” said Raofa.


It goes back to the foundation of having an education, and being given the opportunity to raise her voice from an early age. There is a lot we can all learn from someone like Raofa Ahrary. Faced with death, war, oppression, jail and failing health, she is able to unflinchingly express the importance of women’s voices in public life.

This pioneer woman is a living example of what happens when women are given the opportunity to change the world. Not just in Afghanistan, but in every country.

“My children wanted to be educated like me and my husband. I try to influence my children to be kind to others and never say no when it comes to helping others,” Raofa told us.

One voice raised gives another voice the courage it needs to also speak up. Never underestimate the power of sharing your story, using the media to advocate important issues, and mobilizing a community to action in the name of equal rights or empowerment.






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