'Ugly Betty'-Inspired TV Show Captures the Working Lives of Afghan Women
'Roya' pushes its audiences to get used to working women in the country deeply rooted in patriarchy.
A groundbreaking TV show championing gender equality is set to premiere in November on Afghan prime television, the Guardian reports.
Inspired by the American show Ugly Betty (a comedy about an awkward young woman navigating the fashion industry), Roya follows a single, educated 20-year-old who’s the first woman in her family to enter the workforce.
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When the Taliban came to power in Afghanistan in 1996, girls and women weren’t allowed in public unaccompanied and were prohibited from attending school, let alone go to work. Women risked their lives to study and work — if caught, many were brutally punished with public flogging.
Imagine what an adjustment it was for Afghan society when the Taliban fell and women were given their rights back in 2001. Roya, named after its main character, attempts to explore what dealing with the change looks like, as the country inches toward a less patriarchal culture. Like many young people around the world, Roya’s family is hesitant to approve her career choice.
Despite the country’s progress, the Afghan government reported women only accounted for 29% of the workforce in 2014. In 2017, Human Rights Watch reported nearly 3 million girls weren’t in school and it’s still taboo for women to reveal their names in public. Research shows women in the country, 8 in every 10, have experienced some kind of violence, sexually, physically or psychologically, in their lives.
Masooma Ibrahimi, the show’s scriptwriter, told the Guardian depicts all aspects of being an Afghan woman.
“Over the course of 10 episodes, she encounters a variety of characters. Some are supportive and helpful, while others are negative and do not approve of the idea of women in offices,” Ibrahimi saidof the show funded by USAID’s women’s empowerment program “Promote”.
Roya dives into unchartered territory with a humorous approach. Roya’s awkward interactions with other characters who aren’t used to being around women at the office offer comedic relief. But the show still takes on serious issues like how to handle sexual harassment on the job. Roya ultimately comes out on top and her new job allows her to support her family.
Lima Nawabzada, a 23-year-old employee at the show’s production company Rumi Consultancy, told the Guardian the pilot episode made her cry. Nawabzada saw herself in one particular storyline where Roya’s brother and mother accompany her to a job interview because office spaces were long considered unsafe for women.
The show’s Afghan, majority-female production team consulted with several Afghan working women during the scriptwriting process to make sure it’s relatable to viewers in the country.