By Zahra Nader and Zahra Joya
As the Taliban’s crackdown on women’s rights continues, forcing protests by women indoors, some are finding new ways to resist. Among them are two sisters, Yasmin* and Nazanin*, who are opposing the Taliban from the corner of their bedroom in central Afghanistan.
Using an iPhone 7, the sisters have produced four songs, channelling the agony they feel. Sung a cappella, the poetic ballads have become extremely popular in Afghanistan in recent months, airing on social media and BBC Persian, where they have been viewed thousands of times. The songs talk of despair and the hope that things will change, with the sisters often in harmony.
For their safety, they wanted to be anonymous, so they performed their songs wearing burqas – one borrowed from a neighbor and one belonging to their mother, who had held onto the all-encompassing veil as a souvenir from the 1990s when the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan.
When Yasmin heard that the Taliban had entered their city in August, she locked herself in the bathroom and cried for hours. Over the next two days, she couldn’t sleep, not even for a minute. Instead, she peered out of her window, looking at people running in all directions, fleeing their homes. She has asked that the identity of the city not be made public for fear of retribution.
“It was my sister’s idea to use our voice as resistance. Our voice is the voice of women who can’t speak and protest,” said 26-year-old Yasmin in a phone interview. Even though being a singer wasn’t a life goal for the sisters, they were often encouraged by their friends to compete on “Afghan Star”, the Afghan version of the TV show American Idol, which aired on Afghan channel Tolo. The enormously popular Afghan Star is likely to be banned under the Taliban’s new media regulations which require the media to not produce content “contrary to Islam.”
The Taliban has already banned music and the broadcast of women’s faces and voices on radio and television in some parts of Afghanistan, according to a report by the Afghan Journalists Safety Committee (AJSC).
When the Taliban first ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they banned women from work and education as well as music, dance, movies, and other art forms, including making sculptures.
“We had bigger dreams to pursue, but since the Taliban came, singing was our only weapon which could help release our anger,” Yasmin said, adding that they released their first song without consulting their eldest brother – which would have been customary for the girls to do.
“We wanted him to know after the fact when he can’t stop us. We are fighting with our voice, and there is no need to ask for permission when one is going to war,” she said firmly. “None of our relatives know that we are singing. It is our secret fight.”
Both university graduates, the sisters now hope their act of resistance can encourage and inspire other women to stand up and raise their voices in the face of injustice.
“We hope all of us can raise our voices and say NO to the Taliban. Say no to a group that does not believe in human rights. This is the least we can do,” Yasmin said.
“I wear the burqa to protect my identity and to say that the women of Afghanistan have changed in the past 20 years, they can say no from under a burqa,” the 25-year-old Nazanin told Rukhshana Media.
“We wear burqas to show that even if the Taliban and their like-minded men forced women to wear the burqa, they can never silence them. Even from under the burqa, we have the courage and power to raise our voice,” said Nazanin, who remembers when the previous Taliban regime was toppled in 2001.
“My early childhood was destroyed when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in the 1990s. My teenage years were tarnished by the [sound of] explosions and suicide attacks. Now that we are young, the Taliban won’t allow us to live on our terms,” she added.
The sisters are inspired by their mother, who taught in a secret school during the Taliban’s first rule in the 1990s. “My mother studied in secret and she ran a secret school under the nose of village men. She fought alone,” Yasmin said.
*Pseudonyms have been used at the sisters’ request to protect their identities.