Female Gen Z Influencers Show the World a New Side of Afghanistan
A group of young women in Afghanistan is breaking through as Gen Z influencers on Tik Tok, Instagram, and YouTube. Like social media influencers in other countries, these Afghan women, primarily in their 20’s, have gained the attention of large groups of followers by chronicling their daily lives on digital platforms. One of the country’s social media stars, Ayeda Shadab, has nearly 400,000 followers on Tik Tok and more than 230,000 on Instagram.
The rise of social media influencers in Afghanistan points to broader societal changes and technological advances being ushered in by the young generation that came of age over the past twenty years. The proliferation of mobile devices, social media, and e-commerce is fostering free speech, and entrepreneurship, while connecting Afghans to each other and the world in ways that were not possible before. According to Business Insider these female influencers, referred to as tastemakers because of their impact on the fashion and lifestyle industries, have monetized their social media presence and are inspiring enterprising Afghan business owners to follow suit. A recent survey by the Asia Foundation showed that in 2015, only 25 percent of households could get online using a mobile phone with internet access, but that number nearly doubled in 2019.
Gen Z in Afghanistan is digital natives that harness the power of technology to show the world a side of the country that is overlooked by mainstream media. Media reports about the country focus on violence and war. Indeed female social media influencers face threats of violence and an overall deteriorating security situation. But despite these challenges, the young digital ambassadors share messages of peace, passion, and prosperity. Social media offers women opportunities for expression and political engagement, empowering them to seek better treatment and rights in society by questioning the traditional roles of gender and patriarchy.
Recently, the power of female political influence through social media came into full view after Kabul’s Ministry of Education issued an ill-conceived order that called the government’s commitment to women and girls’ rights into question. The order declared that girls over the age of 12 are no longer allowed to attend choir classes or sing at public events. This order was quickly revoked after many Afghan women, and social rights activists became outraged on social media. They were successful in overturning the government’s policy through a social media campaign with the hashtag #IamMySong, accompanied by video clips of girls singing hymns and songs, and participating in musical performances.
With the U.S. and NATO forces determined to carry out an unconditional troop withdrawal from the country by September 11, the fate of women’s gains and free speech outlets like social media hang in the balance. The Taliban already declared victory and do not seem to be interested in continuing the peace talks. They have changed little if any when it comes to women’s rights and other personal freedoms. What will the future hold for Afghan women? Will a Taliban-dominated government allow the use of social media for anyone, let alone women. These are questions that hang in the balance as international troops withdraw and the Afghan people are left facing an uncertain future.