The Afghan education ministry appears to be reversing its decision to impose a nationwide singing ban on schoolgirls.
In a letter to school boards last week, which was leaked to the media, Kabul’s education department said girls aged 12 and older would no longer be able to sing at public events, in unless the events are attended only by women. The letter also stipulated that girls could not be trained by a male music teacher.
The reason given for this decision was to allow the students to concentrate on their studies. But the announcement sparked widespread outrage, with many accusing the government of sympathizing with the Taliban and promoting gender discrimination.
In protest, women across the country, including many prominent Afghan leaders, recorded videos of themselves singing and posted them on social media using the hashtag. #IAmMySong.
This week, the ministry appeared to be reversing the move, saying it was investigating the ban announced by the education director in the capital, Kabul. A statement from the ministry said the letter did not reflect his position and that it would assess the matter.
Ahmad Sarmast, the founder of the Afghan National Institute of Music, which launched the #IAmMySong campaign, urged the ministry to officially repeal the previous order.
“The decree not only violates the musical rights of Afghan girls and deprives them of the healing power of music, but it also violates the Afghan constitution, child protection laws and the international convention on the rights of the child.” “, did he declare.
Women across Afghanistan express themselves through music, and many use it as a coping mechanism in times of violence and war. Prominent singers, musicians and dancers practice their art all over the country.
Many say they have received threats or have been asked by their own families to quit. Maram Abdallah, 18, a pianist about to graduate from the National Institute of Music in Afghanistan, said she had to struggle against her family’s conservative attitudes in order to be able to play music.
“I grew up in Egypt where my parents went to college and I started playing the piano at the age of five, but when we returned to Afghanistan my father wouldn’t let me continue.” , she said. Abdallah’s father said pressure from the company was the reason for his veto.
“Music was and is my life. It’s my way of expressing my feelings and dealing with difficulties, ”she said. “When I was banned from playing, I completely retired 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 was allowed to sit at the piano again, she was overcome with emotion. “I came back to life right away,” she said.
Since then, Abdallah has performed around the world, including in the UK and Australia, and dreams of one day becoming a solo pianist.
“The singing of women is part of our culture,” said Shaharzad Akbar, president of the Independent Human Rights Commission in Afghanistan, who sang his protest on social media. “Women have always sung and played instruments at weddings, for example. I remember going to the village when I was a child to see women dancing.
Fahima Mirzaie, a 24-year-old teacher, has practiced Sufism – a mystical form of Islam – since her teenage years, and uses music and dance to connect with her faith.
“I identify with Sufism. It’s a way for me to reach the truth, ”she said from a gymnasium in the basement of a school in Kabul where she practiced music and dance with her students.
“Singing and dancing are part of what makes Afghanistan. It is important to share these traditions with the children, ”she said.
The Afghan government has introduced “incredibly misogynistic” policies, said Heather Barr, acting co-director of Women’s Rights Human Rights Watch.
“I don’t even think they’re trying to meet the Taliban in the middle … maybe the negotiation process has opened up a space for members of the government who oppose women’s rights to use this opportunity and lobby. for policies against women. There are natural allies of the Taliban worldview in government, ”she said.
During the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, music was banned throughout the country and girls were not allowed to attend school. “If they could have it exactly that way again, they would,” Barr added.
“I don’t think the Taliban has changed since,” said Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan politician and peace negotiator at the Doha talks. “I hope that if they find a way to put their methods and ideas into practice in a more open Afghan society, they will change over time.”