IWMF alums bravely report on — and from — Afghanistan

5 min readSep 14, 2021


Last month, the Afghan government fell to the Taliban — a move that’s left millions of civilians, journalists, and human rights advocates fearing rollbacks on human rights and press freedoms. Afghan women and girls, in particular, are afraid of what could come. We are taking the opportunity, then, to highlight the IWMF alums who have recently reported on — and from — Afghanistan. Some of them have had to flee the country for their own safety.

The IWMF and the One Free Press Coalition have called on communities and governments to engage in 10 critical actions to support Afghan journalists. If we do not support them in this moment, we may lose their voices permanently.

A photographer gives an inside look at the fall of Kabul

Families and friends visit graves on Tappe Shuhada (Martyr’s Hill) where 18 victims of a powerful triple explosion outside a high school in western Kabul on May 8, 2021, were buried. Almost all of the victims of the attack, which killed at least 86 people and wounded more than 160, were teenage girls leaving their classrooms. (Kiana Hayeri for National Geographic)

African Great Lakes fellow Kiana Hayeri has called Kabul home for seven years. But the Taliban’s seizure of the city left Kiana no choice but to evacuate. In an interview with National Geographic’s Rachel Hartigan, the photojournalist reflects on conditions at the Kabul airport, her mixed emotions about her evacuation, and the beauty of Kabul.

“The emotions that you experience there are so raw and so basic, and it’s beautiful. It’s something I’ve never experienced anywhere else.”

What’s at stake for those left behind in Afghanistan?

Friends in Daykundi go to a local dam for a picnic on March 19, 2021, the day before Nowruz, a spring festival that marks the new year. Though many women have been afforded access to education, career opportunities, and freedom, their lives will likely be restricted by the new Taliban rule. (Kiana Hayeri for National Geographic)

For the past 20 years, women have made strides in education, politics, and social equality. But with the sudden takeover by the Taliban, that progress may be rolled back. In a National Geographic story featuring visuals from Kiana Hayeri, African Great Lakes fellow Nina Strochlic interviews Afghan women refugees as they find a new normal and reflect on the perils that their families face in their home country.

‘They are so defiant and so strong’: Photojournalist Paula Bronstein on documenting women and girls in Afghanistan

Farzia, 28, sits with her children, Subhan, 5, and Ismael, 2, in an internally displaced persons camp in Kabul. She lost her husband in Baghlan one week previous while he was fighting the Taliban. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Paula Bronstein has been photographing Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Her images capture the agony of war, progress in women’s rights and the quiet moments of civilian life. In an interview with Yahoo News, Bronstein, whose work merited an honorable mention in the 2016 Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Awards, speaks about her evacuation from Kabul, her mission-driven reporting and the state of human rights in Afghanistan.

Desperate Afghan families recount narrow escape from ISIS attack

Crowds of people show their documents to US troops outside the airport in Kabul. Reuters

“Afghans have been tortured for so long. Even as we try to find a better and safer life, we might die trying to do so.”

An Afghan grandmother told this to Reporting Grants for Women’s Stories alum Stefanie Glinski. Chaos ensued at the Kabul airport as civilians sought to escape the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. Glinski recounts what happened in a story for The National.

Afghanistan’s arc from 9/11 to today: Once hopeful, now sad

Courage in Journalism awardee (2002) Kathy Gannon has been covering Afghanistan and the region for three decades. Now the Associated Press news director for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Kathy was one of the few international journalists in the Afghan capital when terrorists attacked the United States on 9/11. At one point she was the only Western reporter in Kabul.

In a story for AP, she examines the fallout and human toll of 9/11, war, and corruption in Afghanistan, with a focus on the well-being of Afghan women and girls.

The real story of the Afghan biometric databases

Image by Andrea Daquino

In an investigation for MIT Technology Review, Adelante alum Eileen Guo and Hikmat Noori sought to set the record straight on reports that the Taliban has captured U.S. military biometric devices and, in the process, discovered the existence of Afghan government databases that could pose a greater security threat than originally understood.

The Taliban are the Same as They Were 20 Years Ago

Members of Taliban forces gesture as they check a vehicle on a street in Kabul, Afghanistan. (File pic/Reuters)

Conditions in Afghanistan are dire. In a dispatch to News 18’s Kamalika Sengupta, 2008 Courage in Journalism awardee Farida Nekzad warns the public about the Taliban amid the group’s promises of peace. “They destroyed all our achievements in one hour,” says Farida, co-founder of Pajhwok Afghan News and director of Center for Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ).

“They forced our vagrants from Afghanistan to leave their homeland, drowned our youth in blood, and once again caused distress to Afghans.”

Meeting the moment: Crisis in Afghanistan

Over the past month, the world witnessed devastation in Afghanistan as the Taliban seized control of the country. Women journalists are among the most at-risk populations in the country, targeted both for their jobs and their gender.

While these weeks have been filled with grief and outrage, there has been one bright spot: you. Our amazing community jumped into action, raising more than $119,000 to help women journalists in Afghanistan. Through your incredible generosity, we are able to support safe shelter for women who remain in Afghanistan, as well as aid to those who are resettling in other countries.

This is a long-term effort; if you have not yet donated, we hope you’ll consider giving to help us continue supporting Afghan women journalists during the difficult weeks and months to come.

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The International Women's Media Foundation is a DC-based organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of women worldwide.