‘A great danger’

Women musicians in Afghanistan refuse to be silenced by the threat of the Taliban

The Afghan Woman Orchestra Zohra performs during the closing session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 20, 2017. (REUTERS/Ruben Sprich)

As the U.S. continues to sideline women from its peace talks with the Taliban, Afghanistan’s women musicians are increasingly striving to make their voices heard.

Negin Khpelwak, the country’s first female conductor and leader of the all-women Zohra Orchestra — another first for the conservative Islamic country — told Bloomberg News that she and other women will fight before they “go back to the dark days.” Khpelwak and her bandmates have been enjoying massive success both domestically and internationally; they recently returned from a sold-out tour of the U.K. and Sweden. But when performing in Kabul in February, she recalled, fear of violence from the Taliban and their supporters required them to put 700 attendees through as many as 10 security checkpoints manned by armed guards and dogs.

“They can break our instruments, they can ban the music, but they never take it from our hearts,” said Khpelwak.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, music of all kinds was banned and women were not allowed to attend school or even leave the house without a male escort. Concerns that the U.S. might sacrifice women’s rights in negotiations with the Taliban, who currently control or are contesting half of Afghanistan, have been exacerbated by America’s seeming acquiescence to Taliban demands that women be excluded from the peace process.

“If the Taliban comes back, it might be a great danger for us,” said violinist Gul Mina. “Their return could be a huge disaster to our lives and musical works.”

Read the full story at Bloomberg News.

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