Afghanistan’s women orchestra – Zohra; also the first and the only female orchestra in Afghanistan has been entitled with the famous Freemuse Award 2017. Freemuse – the world forum on music and censorship is an independent international membership organization that has been working to advocate and defend freedom of expression for musicians and composers around the world. It has a Special Consultative Status with the United Nation’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 2012. Each year it gives different sorts of awards to individuals and groups that make remarkable achievements in the field of music. And, this year its highest awards has been given to Zohra, which is a matter of pride for Afghan people as a whole.
Zohra is basically managed by Afghanistan’s National Institute of Music (ANIM). The institute has really made some remarkable endeavors to revive Afghan music and bring about modern trends within it as well. It runs formal classes on music and also festivals and programs where students and musicians from around the country could be trained in preparation for concerts. The Institute recently sent female musicians to Europe where they played traditional music of Afghanistan. Zohra also performed at Davos 2017 session in Switzerland.
It is also vital to observe that ANIM, in a manner, is developing Afghanistan’s human resource. Music is an art and also a skill. It can support those who are involved in it financially as well. They can make their living by playing different instruments and by singing. Thus, those who have interest in music can satiate their thirst for music and at the same time make a reputable earning for themselves. Rahil Mohammad Formuli, deputy head of vocational studies at Ministry of Education recently revealed that National Music Institute has a good criterion and at least 50 percent of its students are street children.
Zohra on the other hand is an indication of what Afghan women are capable of. In fact, they have even proved themselves in the fields that are not thought to be for women in Afghan society. They have proved themselves in different sports events. They take part in politics and some among them are heading different organizations within the country. And, they have shown their talents in music as well, which is even considered inappropriate for Afghan men to listen to or to take part in. There are many Afghan female singers who have proved to the country and even internationally that they have extra-ordinary talent.
Afghan women who are in music are thought to be ‘characterless’ and most of the society members machinate both intentionally and unintentionally that they should be discouraged as much as possible. There are different rumors and fake stories about different Afghan female singers who are famous nowadays. Unfortunately, most of the people never try to investigate about such stories and play a part in further promulgating them.
Apart from singing, even if a girl or woman tries to use or play any musical instrument, there are many who start doubting her character and consider her awkward and sinful. Even her own family members stand against her and suggest or even threaten her to leave the ‘sinful’ task. However, Zohra has proved that Afghan women are standing strong against all such baseless opposition and they are determined to show their capabilities and skills to the world and even impress them.
Negin Khpalwak, a 19 year old Afghan girl from south-east Afghanistan, the leader of Zohra, is a very interesting case in this regard. She had to face different sorts of threats to reach to this position. She had started playing music during the reign of Taliban when there was a complete ban over such activities. She, however, continued her work secretly, even from her family members. Finally, she decided to reveal her secret to her father, who, astonishingly, favored her and supported her to continue her skill. The other family members and relatives, however, were not impressed by her passion and stood against her intentions. So, she decided to leave her village and travel to Kabul. She, now, leaves in an orphanage in Kabul but enthusiastically follows her passion for music. Even now she feels insecure in many ways. She cannot visit her village because recently when she did so, she was threatened to be killed because he had appeared in a television show, wherein she had led the orchestra. Nevertheless, she is determined and recently said in an interview, "I will never accept defeat… I will continue to play music. I do not feel safe, but when people see me and say, 'That is Negin Khpalwak', that gives me energy."
The achievement of Zohra is really huge, considering the status of women in the Afghanistan and the behavior of society towards them and towards music. Nevertheless, it remains a fact that Afghanistan, like any other country, has many talented women who can play their role in earning a respectable name for the country and introducing the necessary positive changes within the society.
It is really important that government takes tangible measures against the discriminatory ideas and behavior against women. Government can prove to be a hope for the women. If it itself encourages the intentions that may undermine the rights of women, it would be very difficult to expect the same from common people.