Afghanistan gets Cosmo-inspired women's magazine

Hollie McKay

Abortion, birth control, breast-cancer checkups and Tinder dating aren't topics one typically finds in Afghan media. But a small group of Kabul University students have changed that with the launch of a monthly women's magazine, Gellara.

"There are many taboos being talked about," publisher Sanjar Sohail told Fox News. "It is really revolutionary work in Afghanistan. In a time when we have warlords like Hekmatyar coming back, young women are making sure that they send a clear message to the world: We are only moving forward."

The idea for Gellara was born five months ago out of a female students’ book club at Kabul University, in which several members decided it was time to take some of their ideas to a broader audience.

Since then, 12 women, ages 19 to 32, have volunteered their time to ensure their controversial first edition hit the stands.

The fashion/lifestyle magazine was thus launched late last month, complete with a swanky soirée in Kabul attended by local influencers, including advisers to First Lady Rula Ghani. Its initial print run was 2,000 copies, each selling for the equivalent of $1.50, available in Kabul at bookstores, universities, travel agencies and beauty parlors.

Already business is booming.

"Bookstores are calling, asking for hundreds more copies," Sohail said. "And we are getting calls of interest to sell in much more conservative provinces like Kandahar, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif."



Gellara's editor-in-chief, Fatana Hassanzada, 23, hopes Gellara will encourage the upcoming generation of women in an era of uncertainty and a steadily deteriorating security.

"Life in Afghanistan is ugly. Everything from politics to violence feeds us with disappointments," she noted bluntly. "Gellara is here to bring hope and to counter the ugly face of life with color, beauty and new lifestyle with the women in the center of its focus."

The majority of the images inside -- as well as the cover shot -- also feature female models not only without their traditional hijab head covering, but donning mini-skirts, sleeveless tops and an amount of exposed skin more akin to a fashion spread in a Western magazine for women.

But breaking cultural anathemas doesn't come without risk in an Islamic country still steeped in tradition.

The cover shoot featuring famed Afghan model and singer Mozhdah Jamalzadah took place in Dubai as a safety precaution. But for her, the pros outweigh the cons. 

"The women's magazine is another huge step in furthering the progress of women's rights in Afghanistan," she told Fox News. 

And although the magazine managed to acquire a vast array of advertisers from dental clinics and photo studios to loan companies and restaurants, they too had their own reservations, Sohail pointed out.

However, the young women remain steadfast as they sit over editorial meetings with their U.S. edition copies of Cosmopolitan magazine, which many credit as their model. As illuminated in an article in their own first publication, they remind one another that all societies -- including America -- have endured long struggles to change the public's acceptance of women's evolving roles.

Yet Cosmo wasn't the only model for the ambitious creators. They chose to give their magazine a Kurdish name in a tribute to a group of women Gellara’s creators admire.

"It refers to the part of the eye that sees the beauty," Sohail added. "They really wanted to honor the Kurdish women fighting ISIS. That has been the real inspiration." 

Hollie McKay has been a staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay