Shakila Ibrahimkhail

Giving a voice to women

Shakila Ibrahimkhail has had to start from scratch several times already. As a female journalist in Afghanistan covering women’s rights issues, she has long defied danger. Until she had to flee – and start yet another new life.

Shakila Ibrahimkhail was forced to marry an older man at the age of 17. After he was killed and the Taliban ousted from power, she picked up journalism. ‘I wanted to be someone who could give a voice to victims, like myself, who’d been forced to keep silent,’ she says in the documentary Facing the Dragon, shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2019 where Ibrahimkhail is a special guest.

And that is exactly what she did. Ibrahimkhail became the first woman to work as a journalist at Afghanistan’s largest television station, Tolo TV. Her journalistic focus was on human rights abuses, women’s rights and politics. In Afghanistan these topics are dangerous for any reporter, but for a woman this goes more than double. After US troops began withdrawing from the country in 2014, the Taliban started to regain strength and the small progress that was made for women’s rights eroded again. The number of women working in the media declined rapidly. According to Reporters Without Borders, many of them have been forced to abandon their work because of growing threats and the climate of violence they face.

Interviewed in 2015, Ibrahimkhail was still able to withstand the pressure. ‘I fear the Taliban and I am scared of them, but I cannot close my eyes to victims’ rights by not reporting their stories,’ she said. But everything changed when Taliban fighters bombed the TV station’s van in January 2016, killing seven of her colleagues. After that attack, she decided to flee with her two children, making the difficult journey through Turkey into Europe.