Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Mina Habib – a Star of IWPR's Afghan Programme

Journalist defies danger and prejudice to seek out stories.
By IWPR Afghanistan
  • Mina Habib. (Photo: IWPR)
    Mina Habib. (Photo: IWPR)

Although award-winning reporter Mina Habib has a degree in journalism from Kabul university, she says the time she as spent working for IWPR is really how she learned her craft.

“At university everything was on paper, and imaginary,” she said. “We just discussed theory over and over again and didn’t do anything practical. It was when I started working with IWPR that I really entered the world of journalism.

“I didn’t know anything about investigative journalism, news analysis or feature writing. I learned it all at IWPR. I know now how broad and important the scope of journalism is.”

Mina has won numerous prizes during her time with IWPR, including a special award from the South Asian Free Media Association. A 2012 report she wrote on constitutional violations won a top national media award, and her stories have had real impact. (See Afghan Ministry Award for IWPR Reporter and IWPR Journalists Recognised at Afghan Awards Ceremony.)

One story she wrote in 2011 about the death of a child at a juvenile detention centre in Kabul led to major reforms to the way the institution is managed. (Report Leads to Reforms at Afghan Juvenile Centre.) Another investigation into discrimination faced by Afghanistan’s small Hindu and Sikh community prompted President Hamed Karzai to intervene personally.)

Mina says she is always delighted when she comes across other reporters trained by IWPR, which has been working in the country since 2002.

“When I meet these reporters praising IWPR, I feel proud of myself,” she added.

Born in Kabul in 1983, Habib was interested in journalism from an early age and defied her family’s disapproval to pursue a career. Her family have never been reconciled to her job, which is seen as shameful for a woman.

“When I took my awards home, I hoped someone would ask me, ‘What are these?’ But no one asked. I quietly put them on a shelf in my bedroom. That made me feel very forlorn,” she said.

As well as this lack of enthusiasm, Mina also faces prejudice from wider society.

“People in the neighbourhood torment me with nasty, sarcastic comments. Some even insult me and call me names,” she said.

Her job comes with real risks. Habib has received hate mail, and was threatened by police when she photographed officers beating street children. She was also injured in the leg while covering a suicide attack on a Kabul grocery store.

“I have been threatened several times by members of parliament, warlords and insurgents, but I never allowed myself to be overcome by fear,” she said. “I just continue working.”

Fellow journalist Safia Omari praised Habib’s courage.

“In the current [security] situation, men are afraid to walk around in the cities, but Mina bravely goes everywhere she needs to in order to prepare her story. I admire her courage.”

She added, “What hurts Mina most is injustice, even if it’s something minor.”

Hafizullah Gardesh, IWPR’s editor in Afghanistan, also says Habib is driven by the fight for justice.

“I admire the courage and sincerity in her work,” he said, adding that she had a hugely compassionate approach to her reporting and was a rare example of a journalist who could not be deterred from pursuing a story.

“I have come across her in tears, and when I asked why, she told me about the problems of a child or a woman [she had interviewed]. She is certainly most drawn to writing about women and children.”

Habib said that her ultimate dream was to fight for the rights of women and children.

“I want rule of law and justice,” she said. “The people of my country suffer because they are denied this.”

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