KABUL, Afghanistan — Humira Saqeb does not look like a fighter. The diminutive 20-something, with her calm demeanor and serene smile, could be anything from a young housewife to a graduate student. But the somber black dress and embroidered scarf hide the heart of a revolutionary, intent on changing society, albeit in slow, measured steps.
Saqeb is the editor of a new magazine, Negah-e-Zan (A Vision of Women), whose mission, as she puts it, is to “tell women that we have great ideas, and the ability to make those ideas a reality.”
For this radical thought, she is already facing death threats. She has closed the magazine’s offices, and for now is working mostly out of her home.
Negah-e-Zan, which contains interviews with prominent women both in Afghanistan and abroad, does not look like a ticking bomb. It is printed mostly in black and white, on newsprint paper, and borrows heavily from the internet. One of the first two issues contains a biography and photo essay on Hillary Clinton; another contains the story of Princess Diana.
There are also snippets from Afghan history, such as the tale of Queen Soraya, who in the 1920s appeared unveiled in public, leading to a brief period of greater freedom for Afghan women and the eventual deposing of her husband, King Amanullah Khan.
Pretty tame stuff, it would appear.
The magazine, which has been running for five months, has managed to publish just two issues. Due to budget constraints, they print only 3,000 copies, which are distributed free of charge at universities and government offices that deal with women's issues, such as the Ministry of Women's Affairs. Advertising covers only about one-third of the magazine’s expenses, according to Saqeb.
Negah-e-Zan is directed at the small minority of Afghan women who can read — estimated at less than 20 percent, according to the United Nations. Outside of Kabul, the publication would be unlikely to find much of a market.
Nevertheless, even in the relatively progressive streets of the capital, many see the magazine as a menace, attacking the very basis of the country’s male-dominated society.