Dispatch From Kabul, Afghanistan: Afghan Magazine, a Sisterhood of Ideas, Hopes to Counter Men’s Sway

Dispatch From Kabul, Afghanistan: Afghan Magazine, a Sisterhood of Ideas, Hopes to Counter Men’s Sway

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She knows that the magazine — the product of nearly five months of work by a dozen young female volunteers — could very well be burned.

Despite the risk, she hopes Gellara becomes a household name, a forum for conversation for young women that can be slipped under apartment doors or into purses, and offered at beauty parlors and dentist offices. A sisterhood of big ideas, pre-chewed and packaged on glossy paper with lots of pictures, in a society where what women can talk about is often dictated by men.

“Our view is that without agitation, we won’t reach an equilibrium,” Ms. Hassanzada said with a smile.

Ms. Hassanzada, 23, said the idea had been born from a book club she attended. The club, composed mostly of women but also of a few men, meets at a cafe or a reading space at Kabul University to discuss novels — from Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” to Khaled Hosseini’s “A Thousand Splendid Suns” — and broad philosophical questions.

Thinking they needed to expand those conversations, some of the women decided to start a magazine. It took months to prepare their first issue because they struggled to find a balance between pursuing nurturing themes like second-wave feminism, which might appeal to a more educated audience, and attracting a wider readership.

“We are still focused on those themes for the content,” said Ms. Hassanzada, whose day job is at an aviation company. “But we want to introduce them in an Afghan way — in a simpler way that matches how our people live.”

“The main issue is durability of work inside Afghanistan, and the other issue is impact,” she said. “When larger subjects have been discussed, it has remained limited to a small class of elite.”

On a recent day, half of the staff discussed design issues over lunch — a simple beef and vegetable soup with bread and salad — at the makeshift office.

The young women are volunteers, but they hope to attract enough ads and subscriptions by the time the second issue goes to print that they can be paid a salary. The first issue sold for the equivalent of $1.50. The cost of producing it was covered by a business that advertised in the magazine.

They only two paid members of their team are young male designers, who work on a freelance basis. Recently, a newspaper publisher that is providing technical advice brought a sampling of international magazines from which to draw design inspiration.

Ms. Hassanzada said the hundreds of thousands of educated young women throughout Afghanistan, both in high school and at universities, were her potential audience. From her days as a university student in the north, she knows well the thirst among young educated women for new conversations.

Traditional methods of male control prevent many young women from having a phone or being online.

“We know our shared pain,” Ms. Hassanzada said. “And it becomes a social responsibility to get the basic information that those women need, for their lives and thoughts, into their homes. Women’s issues, inside their home.”

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