TV show aims to be Afghan Oprah

Kabul, October 1, 2005 - At the well-secured offices of the Tolo TV station in Kabul, presenter Farzana Samimi is getting ready for a new show called Banu - "woman" in the Dari language. The 27-year-old veterinary science and psychology major turned TV presenter says the show is about problems faced by Afghan women - largely a taboo subject.

Three times a week for the past month, Ms Samimi has teamed up with a Kabul-based psychiatrist, Mohammed Yasin Babrak, to talk about the "psychological and social problems" of women.

Today's subject is about the common fears that women usually have, says Ms Samimi, who thought up the program. Ms Samimi begins by asking Dr Babrak about the fears women usually have.

The discussion drags a little, a long talkathon on phobias. But even this is quite revolutionary in war-ravaged Afghanistan, where women are still struggling to make their voices heard, four years after the demise of the Taliban.

"Most Afghan women cannot pour their hearts out to anyone when they have a problem. We hope to make this program their pulpit, so to speak," says Ms Samimi.

The daughter of an engineer father who now lives with her homemaker mother in Turkey, Ms Samimi believes Afghan women are among the worst off in the world. "They have not got their rights in family and society. Even if she wants to change her hairstyle, she has to get her husband's permission. They have no control over their destiny. Obviously, they suffer many problems, including mental ones," she says.

Ms Samimi was luckier than most Afghan women - she chose a calling in television after training to be a psychologist. Her siblings have been lucky too - one sister is a doctor, the other painter, and the third is studying economics. She says she thought up the show after watching the plight of women go from bad to worse over the war-ravaged years in Afghanistan.

The afternoon show seemed to have struck a chord already - women have begun writing in about their problems, and calling in after watching the program. Ms Samimi is already a star in the making for her women viewers and has stopped going to markets as "people bother me."

She confesses she feels "scared sometimes" hosting a show for women - a former presenter for Tolo TV, who used to work for a popular youth music show, was shot dead by unknown gunmen in Kabul in May. "My husband really does not want me to do this program because of security fears. But I still manage because I want to do something for women," she says.