From Taliban-controlled Kabul, Radio Begum broadcasts the voices of women who have been silenced across Afghanistan.
Station staff fill the airwaves with programs for women, by women: educational programs, book readings and telephone advice.
For now, they are operating with the permission of the Taliban, which took over in August and has restricted the ability of women to work and girls to go to school.
“We are not giving up,” pledged Hamida Aman, 48, the station’s founder, who grew up in Switzerland after her family fled Afghanistan a few years after the Soviet Union invaded.
“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.”
“Vessel for the Voices”
The station was founded on March 8, International Women’s Day, this year, five months before the Taliban entered Kabul and finalized their defeat of 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 usually 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.
The ten employees of Radio Begum shared an office with male colleagues who worked on a radio station for young people.
Now they are separated. Each gender has its floor and a large opaque curtain has been installed in front of the women’s desk.
Pop music was replaced with traditional songs and “quieter music”, Aman said.
Nonetheless, staff members said working at the station was a “privilege”, with many female government workers barred from returning 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 state secondary schools for girls have been closed since the takeover.
But twice a day, the radio studio feels like a classroom.
When the AFP news agency visited, six girls and three boys – all aged 13 or 14 – pored over their books as the presenter gave an on-air lesson in 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 the reopening of some secondary schools.
“My message to girls who cannot go to school is to listen carefully to our program, to use this chance and this golden opportunity,” she said. “They may not have it anymore.”
There are also live classes for adults. In one such lesson, station manager Saba Chaman, 24, read Michelle Obama’s autobiography in Dari. She is particularly proud of a program where listeners seek psychological advice.
In 2016, only 18% of women in Afghanistan were literate, compared to 62% of men, according to the former Ministry of Education.
“Illiterate women are like blind people,” a woman who cannot read said on the air. “When I go to the pharmacy, they give me expired medicines. If I could read, they wouldn’t.
A few months after the Taliban took power, Aman met spokesperson 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 channel, 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 funds are received within three months, the voices of these women will disappear from the airwaves of Afghanistan, Chaman said.
“My only source of hope at the moment is knowing that I am doing something important in my life to help Afghan women.”