Begum TV broadcasts awareness of women’s rights, education and hope into millions of Afghan homes


Photo: Courtesy of BOW
A Begum TV presenter delivers educational content to an audience that is primarily women and girls. Photo: Courtesy of BOW

On International Women’s Day, 8 March 2024, the Begum Organization for Women (BOW) – more commonly known as Begum – launched Begum TV, which is broadcast 24/7 from Paris and seen in Afghanistan via satellite. It offers educational programming and three hours of nightly prime-time “edutainment” talk shows for family audiences.

Viewer Mohammed,* a teacher and father of two girls in Afghanistan’s central highlands, calls is a light amid Afghanistan’s darkness: “My dream came true when I heard about the Begum Academy. … [It not only provides] education, but it creates hope for the future of thousands of girls. ... I, as a father and as an Afghan, [will do my best to socialize] this programme … to bring hope back to girls and their families!”

Begum TV’s programming includes daily classes in both Dari and Pashto, lasting 30-minutes each, for different grade levels, allowing students to learn and engage with teachers online, from home.

“We were very hopeless until we registered at your academy. We are happy that we can complete our studies here,” says Karima*, one of the more than 4,000 students across Afghanistan who are using the free online education courses produced by the Begum Academy. Launched in November 2023, the platform offers the full Afghan school curriculum from grades 7 to 12 in both Dari and Pashto languages, through 8,500 educational videos, independent assessments, and tutor support through a chatbox.

The TV broadcasts are also helping to increase participation in the Academy, which has already risen from 3,000 to 4,000 in its first month on the air. BOW is also developing an app that will allow users to download and access content offline.

Meanwhile, the nightly prime-time content is raising viewers’ awareness of important issues, including women’s rights, domestic violence, mental health and medical information, even offering free health counselling and télé-consultations and encouraging fathers to let their daughters study.

“Women like you make us so proud. In this situation where no one is willing to do a good job and doctors are running away, you are still providing health programmes for your people,” says Kabul viewer Khujasta*. “Our family watches all your programmes, and you have managed to alleviate many of my mother’s concerns about her illnesses. Being able to speak in a way that everyone can understand is a great quality.”

Viewer Jasmine*, from Herat, says the programme taught her what to do to relieve her infant daughter’s pain when her daughter was teething and running a fever.

Begum TV’s evening programming includes “Razia Sultan”, a Bollywood blockbuster series dubbed into Dari, about the first female Muslim ruler of the Indian subcontinent. Prime-time content focuses on information, entertainment and empowerment, and presenters avoid addressing political or security-related topics.

“The Taliban let us broadcast because we don’t touch politics. There are a lot of restrictions and I’m not underestimating the impacts of that. But it’s not black or white; it’s a grey path,” says Hamida Aman, founder of the BOW.

BOW is also empowering female journalists, who have faced many restrictions since the Taliban takeover, including their voices being banned from TV and radio in some provinces.

“I have an incredible team of Afghan women. From very quiet, docile girls, I have watched my staff become warriors,” says Aman. “[For] these young ladies, a job has become a mission. It’s true that they are the breadwinners of their family but it’s not just that. The self-confidence they have gained is just amazing.”

Aman initially self-financed this labour of love, until UN Women provided its first support in 2022.

“It was a huge challenge in the beginning,” explains Aman. “It was a question of space, resources, staff and just getting people to believe in it.”

From the bright green walls of her small production studio, Aman smiles as she reflects on the importance of supporting women-led organizations and her mission to empower Afghan women through media.

“I’m so proud to be part of this and to be with women at this time. I’m so proud of them and I think they are showing that things are possible,” Aman continues. “It’s a resistance action. We are taking a lot of risks as well. But in a sense, I feel it is a duty because my country has given me so much. Afghanistan made me who I am. With all these women living this apartheid, I am putting in even more energy and passion than before.”

According to UN Women Special Representative to Afghanistan Alison Davidian, UN Women’s mandate and key reason for being is to support women-led and women-focused organizations.

“Despite all the restrictions, organizations like BOW are continuing to operate, providing critical lifelines for Afghan women and girls to access information, including leadership and education opportunities,” says Davidian. “BOW’s work is an example of Afghan women’s resilience and ability to adapt and innovate to continue to reach and have impact in the lives of women and girls.”

* Name changed to protect the person’s identity.