Amid outrage from human-rights groups, including a social media campaign, the Afghanistan government has reversed their ban on schoolgirls singing in public.
A strong social media campaign forced the Afghan government to lift the ban on girls singing in public which was imposed by education officials last week.
Thousands of women, including many prominent Afghan leaders, took part in a social media campaign in which they shared videos of themselves singing their favorite songs and trending the hashtag #IAmMySong in protest against the decision.
The Afghan authorities faced immediate backlash when, in the form of a letter, they banned girls aged 12 and above from singing at public events. They also banned girls’ training by male music teachers.
Outrage spread following the announcement as people feared the decision is a tilt towards Talibani mentality and supportive of gender discrimination.
The controversy arises as the Afghan leaders are currently negotiating with the Taliban to end decades of war and to tackle issues of women and minorities’ rights. However, activists don’t welcome a power-sharing government with Taliban as it would mean to have lost the achievement of the past 20 years in civil liberties and women’s rights.
This week, the ministry reversed its decision after receiving widespread backlash. The ministry said in a statement that the letter did not represent its stance and that it would investigate the matter.
Female activists took to social media to voice their protest
Forcing the government to lift the ban “was a small victory for us,” said Fariha Easar, a 32-year-old activist who actively participated in the #IAmMySong campaign. Easar said some officials are trying to implement increasingly orthodox policies like that of the Taliban potentially assuming formal power in Afghanistan.
“We already know how the Taliban defines women’s rights,” said Easar. When the Taliban held power in the 1990s, schools for girls were forcibly shut and women were largely excluded from public life. “That’s why we cannot stop our movement.” But Easar and other activists fear their work will become more difficult and dangerous in the months ahead.
Women all over Afghanistan use music to express themselves, and many use it as a coping tool during times of violence and war. But families in the country are not very supportive about female participation in music and arts.
“Music was and is my life. It’s my way of expressing my feelings and dealing with hardship,” said Maram Abdallah, 18, a pianist and a student from Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music. “When I was banned from playing, I completely withdrew and fell into a deep depression.”
She said it took her a year to convince her father to let her play. The first time she sat down at the piano, she became overwhelmed with emotion. “I came back to life right then,” she said.
Shaharzad Akbar, chairperson of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, said, “Women singing is part of our culture.” She sang to protest on social media. “Women have always sung and played instruments at weddings, for example. I remember going to the village as a child, seeing women dance.”
“Singing and dancing is part of what makes Afghanistan. It’s important to share these traditions with children,” said Fahima Mirzaie, a 24-year-old teacher, who has been practising Sufism – a mystical form of Islam.
Recently, violent attacks against women in Afghanistan have increased as security in the country went down. “We won’t let anyone silence our voices. We should stand up for the future of our daughters,” activist Laila Frogh Mohammadi posted on Twitter along with a video of her singing a popular Afghan song. “It is difficult, but we must pass through,” she sang.