On Friday, October 13th, women across the world kicked off a 24 hour boycott of Twitter to show solidarity with women who have experienced any sort of harassment on the social network.
An October, 2015 study done by the Women and Children Legal Research Foundation found that 93% of Afghan women experienced some sort of harassment in public spaces. Fast forward to 2017, and studies show this trend carrying over into cyberspace, with Afghan women found to be "disproportionately vulnerable" online.
Instead of remaining silent about it, a group of 15 young Afghan volunteers have chosen to strike back, using the power of the pen. When interviewed for a New York Times article, Gellara editor Fatana Hassnzada said the idea for the magazine had “…been born from a book club.” In an email exchange with Queens Free Press, Hassnzada goes deeper and points to a meeting where they discussed Oraniana Fallaci’s “Life of War and No Other” as the specific moment when the idea for the magazine was born.
The Gellara team is diverse, with four members living abroad, and the remaining 11 based in Afghanistan. They try to start conversations on women’s issues and women’s lives in Afghanistan, publishing thought provoking articles like “Thunder's love”, “A Day Without A Woman,” “Six Years Of Waiting For Release,” “A Letter To Young Girls,” and “The Smoothness Of The Marriage.”
Though Afghan women often find themselves tied down by patriarchal controls imposed by the Taliban and others, Hassnzada writes that the biggest challenge that the project is currently dealing with is the question of how to get women to pick up the magazine in a country with a low literacy rate. As it stands right now, female literacy rates in Afghanistan hover around 17% according to UNESCO.
This is not to say that extremist groups and a repressive patriarchy don’t pose an issue.
“…we do not take them too seriously for the moment,” writes Hassnzada when asked about extremist elements.
Right now, the project is a bit more concerned with finding funding so they can continue their work.
The group does have a plan of action though. They’re planning to take their fight into the streets and into the markets, to talk to the women they hope to reach with their magazine. Hassnzada also mentions that they’re taking the fight into the digital realm—doing television and radio interviews, and plugging the project on social media in the hopes of attracting financial support. Sometimes Hassnzada says she is also more proactive about recruiting staff members via social media.
“I read in their thoughts or status on what they put on their pages, and then I did send messages to them and meet together,” she writes, “A number of them were willing to cooperate by understanding the working conditions” [SIC].
People aren’t always receptive to the group’s efforts, and Hassnzada notes that some of the women they’re trying to reach don’t appear ready to take up the fight just yet.
But Hassnzada understands that not everyone will be comfortable taking such a bold step right away, and she is content just being able to sow the seeds of change.
“Meanwhile, many women's minds are prepared to believe that their ideal life is only provided within the framework of these ruling values and traditional beliefs,” Hassnzada writes, “They do not taste the fly; they prefer the cage. But all we are trying to do is to inform these women and make such a kind of attitude and vision of the society to woman for change” [SIC].