As a journalist, it is your duty to give the public the knowledge they can’t find out on their own. Now imagine what it would be like to be threatened or killed for what you are reporting even though it is the public’s right to know what is happening.
For Farida Nekzad, she didn’t have to imagine what it would be like.
Because she lived it.
Nekzad, 45, was the managing editor of Pajhwok Afghan News, Afghanistan’s largest independent news agency. Nekzad is also one of the household names for defending media freedom and the place of women journalists despite her name on the Taliban’s hit list and being nearly kidnapped.
Nekzad fell in love with journalism at a young age when she saw a microphone at her neighbour’s house. Her neighbour used to work for one of the government English newspapers.
“I asked her one day, Aunt Marzia, am I going to be a journalist in the future some day? and she responded, yeah for sure, you’re independent and I know you can do it, if you want to be a journalist,” says Nekzad.
In 2008, Nekzad won the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Award and the director of the Centre for Protection of Afghan Women Journalists (CPAWJ).
But on Aug. 15, the country Nekzad had lived in her entire life and worked in for over 20 years, had been taken by the Taliban nearly 20 years after the U.S. invaded and took them out of power in 2001.
The Taliban are a Pashtun, Islamic fundamentalist group that returned to power in Afghanistan in 2021 after waging a twenty-year insurgency. Many are concerned the Taliban will impose harsh rules, won’t provide basic services, and abuse human rights.
“It was like a nightmare, it was the worst day of my life,” says Nekzad “I had dropped my daughter off at school earlier in the day, she was very excited, she had a mathematics exam that day and that was her last class of the semester.”
Nekzad was waiting in a two-hour line at the bank when she got a call from one of her friends asking where she was, thinking he wanted to have a meeting at the office.
Farida then got that she needed to go to the school and pick up her daughter and go straight home immediately.
“I remember asking why, and he just said don’t ask just quickly go to a safe place,” says Nekzad.
“We were sitting at the table and that’s when the shooting started and I went by the window and all I could hear was people yelling, escape escape! Taliban is here!”
Nekzad’s family went to a relative’s house in Qatar and waited until they made a decision on what they wanted to do.
“My daughter was in the backseat crying saying: What is going to happen mommy, are the Taliban going to kill you?” says Nekzad.
Nekzad says that she wanted to try and find a way to still be a journalist in Afghanistan while the Taliban were in control even after she saw her name was on their hit list but after she saw what was happening to journalist’s still, she knew she had to get out.
She and her husband, who also works in the media, had decided that Farida, her daughter, and her brother-in-law must leave even though her husband’s refugee status hadn’t been approved yet.
The focus of Nekzad’s life is her 12-year-old daughter and doing what is best for her future.
Even though Nekzad had offers to go to Ireland, Germany, Paris or U.S.A., she ultimately decided that she wanted to live in Canada.
“Over the years, I had been to many different countries for work, and Canada was always my favourite,” says Nekzad.
This wasn’t Nekzad’s first experience with the Taliban either, as she was in Afghanistan when the Taliban took control in 1996.
“Unfortunately, there really is no difference, if anything they’re worse than before,” says Nekzad. “They’re like the worst animals, expect that’s an insult for the animals.”
Nekzad says every day the Taliban are violating something different, and that they’re even beating children just minding their business walking in the street.
Nekzad is now a journalist-in-residence at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ont.
Durham College journalism and mass media professor, Joanne Macdonald, helped Nekzad get settled in before she started her new job at Carleton that began on Dec. 12.
Macdonald says it was a unique experience getting to know Nekzad and her family.
“She knew a lot about the weather and what to expect here,” says Macdonald. “We had some fun because we would stop along the way to eat, so like we tried A&W and Subway, and the big one Farida’s daughter wanted to try was Starbucks, so we got her a caramel latte and a cake pop.”
Macdonald says she loved her experience getting to know Nekzad and they became friends very fast.
Just because Nekzad is in Canada, doesn’t mean she is going to stop helping journalists and women in Afghanistan either.
“I am going to research about different topics and issues, and I will take this research and officially launch this research and investigation because this is the only way,” says Nekzad.
Nekzad says that even if the Taliban are not in power anymore, she cannot guarantee that she will go back to living in Kabul.
“Of course, I will go to visit and work but not stay in Afghanistan for now,” says Nekzad.
Nekzad is also not going to stop fighting for women’s rights and media rights in Afghanistan.
“Women are more than 50 per cent of Afghanistan, what’s going to happen to these women? They are in a really bad economy situation. They are living in poverty. They are dying from hunger. They (Taliban) need to make the schools open for participation from women and respect the media.”