"I will never accept that ignorance and intolerance should hide my face ever again."
- Mehria Azizi, journalist
Created as the culmination of a unique training program for Afghan women journalists, "Afghanistan Unveiled" explores the effects of the repressive Taliban regime and the subsequent U.S. military campaign on the lives of Afghan women and their families.
As much an emotional as a geographic journey, the film contrasts the harsh lives of the rural women of Afghanistan with those of the young camerawomen who are experiencing newfound freedom and opportunity, and are attempting to use their work to change the condition of women in their country.
Fourteen young women, several still in their teens, were trained as camera operators and video journalists at the AINA (which means "mirror" in Farsi), Afghan Media and Culture Center in Kabul, the first female journalists to be trained in that country for more than a decade and the first ever to be trained in digital media.
None of the trainees had ever before traveled outside Kabul, and with one exception, none had been able to study or pursue careers while the Taliban controlled their country.
Traveling to rural regions outside Kabul, the filmmakers worked to gain the confidence and trust of their interviewees, obtaining unprecedented access to their countrywomen.
Journeying to Bamyan, the mountainous region where the Taliban destroyed the enormous ancient statues of the Buddha, the journalists capture heartbreaking footage of women and children who have been reduced to burrowing in caves.
Struggling to survive with little food and no water or electricity, left to fend for themselves as the rest of the country rebuilds, the women are led by Zainab, an older woman who details the privations of their daily lives.
The journalists travel to Herat, a city known for its rich heritage but also its lack of freedom for women, where they find it difficult to find a woman willing to speak to them.
They visit a doctor who treats women who cannot afford medical care and meet Faugia, whose husband was killed by U.S. bombs when she was six months pregnant. Now Faugia's daily struggle is to find food to feed her family.
In Jalalabad, the young women are anxious to interview some of the nomadic Kuchi women, who roam the country and find shelter in destroyed villages. But tribal elders forbid them to film women's faces and they journey on.
In Badakshan, the journalists learn that the primary source of money in the region is the cultivation of poppies, where one crop can earn enough to buy a car. They finally find a group of Kuchi women willing to speak to them and they hear about their struggles.
The journalists film a wedding, where it is traditional for Afghan brides to look unhappy at leaving their families. One woman describes how a local militia commander tried to force her to marry against her will, a not uncommon practice in Afghanistan.
Despite the widespread suffering they encounter, the journalists also manage to find moving examples of hope for Afghanistan's future, and emerge from the experience committed to reveal these stories to the world.
Viewers learn the personal stories of the women behind the cameras, women who were not allowed to appear in public, let alone travel, during the Taliban era.
A poetic journey of self-discovery, "Afghanistan Unveiled" is a profound reminder of independent media's power to bear witness.
The Asia Foundation, a leading non-governmental organization active in Asia since 1954, with funding from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau for South Asian Affairs and the Office of Public Diplomacy, provided support for the journalists' training and the transportation costs for the journalists to conduct their interviews around the country.
The foundation also provided an oral-history specialist, Shaista Wahab, an Afghan-American professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, as a consultant to the project.
Additional donors for the project included United States Agency for International Development, UNESCO, International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland.