“When my mother made a decision to sell me, I didn’t give up. Because I had designed a shiny future in my mind for myself. And I couldn’t believe I have to forget my dreams … I wanted to be an active woman. So with the help of my friends and my song, I could save my life. And then I started to defend girls who have no supporter“.
We discovered the quietly defiant Sonita Alizadeh amidst the dizzying spectacle of female power, celebrity and stories of courage in the face of injustice which was London’s first Women in the World Summit – held this September. Sonita is an 18 year old Afghan rapper from Herat who narrowly escaped – at the ages 10 and 16 – being married off as a child. She wasn’t going to stay quiet about it either. Her family had left Afghanistan for Iran when she was 8 years old, and in Tehran she discovered Eminen, learned karate and guitar, and started singing and rapping. When she was 16, her mother told her that she must return to Afghanistan to marry a man who had proposed – her bride price was needed to pay for her brother’s wedding. Sonita refused, and wrote the song Brides for Sale. For the video, she throws on a white wedding dress, paints a barcode on her forehead and bruises on her face, and raps:
“I scream to make up for woman’s lifetime of silence
I scream on behalf of the deep wounds on my body
I scream for a body exhausted in its cage
A body that broke under the price tags you put on it
I am 15 years old from Herat.
A few have come as suitors and I’m confused
I’m perplexed by this tradition and these people
They sell girls for money. No right to choose”
The response to Sonita’s work included a full scholarship to a college prep school in the US, where she currently lives, studying and recording music. Although she was initially worried about what her parents would think of her music, Sonita told the Women of the World audience that she was now ‘one of my fans’.
So are we. We cried as Sonita spoke. This was partly in sadness at her harrowing story, but it was mostly in awe at her strong voice, which is clear and unapologetic in its fury at the injustices faced by women and girls in Afghanistan. And in optimism that as more and more Afghan women speak for themselves, others will presume to speak for them less and less.
Sonita recently recorded a song for Farkhunda, the Afghan women who was beaten and killed in public in Kabul earlier this year, and has also started campaigning against child marriage. A documentary about her life – titled Sonita – will premiere at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam in late November. We’ll keep you posted on any screenings in London. In the meantime, have a look at this great video of Sonita in conversation with author and radio presenter Zarghuna Kargar at Women in the World.
Photo: Women in the World
Posted: 12 November 2015