From Taliban-controlled Kabul, Radio Begum broadcasts the voices of women who have been suffocated throughout Afghanistan.
Station staff fill the airwaves with programs for women, by women: educational programs, book readings and telephone counseling.
For now, they are operating with permission from the Taliban, who took power in August and have limited the ability of women to work and girls to go to school.
“We are not giving up,” promised Hamida Aman, 48, founder of the station, who grew up in Switzerland after her family fled Afghanistan a few years after the invasion of the Soviet Union.
“We have to show that we don’t need to be afraid,” said Aman, who returned after the overthrow of the first Taliban regime in 2001 by US-led foreign forces.
“We have to occupy the public sphere.
The station was founded on March 8, International Women’s Day, this year, five months before the Taliban entered Kabul and finalized their defeat against the US-backed government.
From a working-class neighborhood, it continues to broadcast across Kabul and surrounding areas – and live on Facebook.
“Begum” was a noble title used in South Asia, and it now generally refers to a married Muslim woman.
“This station is a vessel for women’s voices, their pain, their frustrations,” Aman said.
The Taliban allowed the broadcaster to remain on the air in September, but with new restrictions.
About ten Radio Begum employees shared an office with male colleagues who worked at a youth radio station.
Now they are separated. Each gender has its own floor and a large opaque curtain has been installed in front of the women’s office.
Pop music has been replaced by traditional songs and “calmer music,” Aman said.
Nonetheless, staff members said working at the station was a “privilege,” with many female government workers not allowed to return to their offices.
The Taliban have yet to formalize many of their policies, leaving gaps in how they are implemented by the group across the country. Most public secondary schools for girls have been closed since the resumption.
But twice a day the radio studio feels like a classroom.
During the visit to the AFP news agency, six girls and three boys – all aged 13 or 14 – pored over their books as the host gave an on-air lesson on social justice.
“Social justice opposes extremism,” said the 19-year-old teacher, a journalism student until a few months ago.
Mursal, a 13-year-old girl, has been going to the studio to study since the Taliban blocked some high schools from reopening.
“My message to the girls who cannot go to school is to listen carefully to our program, to use this luck and this golden opportunity,” she said. “They may not have it anymore.”
There are also live classes for adults. In one of those lessons, station manager Saba Chaman, 24, read Michelle Obama’s autobiography in Dari. She is especially proud of a show where listeners call for psychological counseling.
In 2016, only 18% of women in Afghanistan were literate compared to 62% of men, according to the former education ministry.
“Illiterate women are like blind people,” a woman who cannot read told the air. “When I go to the pharmacy, they give me expired medicine. If I could read, they wouldn’t.
A few months after the Taliban took power, Aman met spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid and told him that the radio “was working to give women a voice.” He was “very encouraging,” she said.
But the future is uncertain.
In September, the country’s main independent television station, Tolo News, reported that more than 150 outlets had closed due to restrictions and financial problems.
Radio Begum no longer receives advertising revenue.
If no funding is received within three months, the voices of these women will disappear from the airwaves of Afghanistan, said Chaman.
“My only cause for hope at the moment is knowing that I am doing something important in my life to help Afghan women. “