An Afghan woman rapping about gender inequality alongside her fiancé is far from the norm in Afghanistan. Yet, despite the inevitable backlash, one of the first female rappers in the country continues to perform under the stage name Paradise. In fact, the nation’s unstable political climate makes Paradise and her rap group, 143Band, all the more determined to expose violence and discrimination against women through music.
Amid many years of war and political instability in Afghanistan, women and civilians continue to face violence from armed opposition groups, according to Amnesty International’s 2013 report on human rights. The impending withdrawal of NATO coalition troops in 2014 will likely further challenge President Hamid Karzai’s government in providing security for civilians and improving the status of women.
“We have rapped about the current situation in Afghanistan and, especially, two raps that we have made supporting women’s rights and safety. Some of the TV in Afghanistan would not broadcast our music. YouTube and Facebook have helped us to promote our music not only nationally, but internationally as well,” they continued.
The more recent of the two videos, for the song “Nalestan,” was released in July and shows Paradise rapping on the streets of Herat, Afghanistan. Wearing a black hoodie, 28-year-old Paradise raps the chorus in Dari: “Afghanistan is my country, but it is full of pain. Always waiting for another blast.”
During the public video shoot, Paradise said she experienced verbal abuse from both men and women who expressed their disapproval through insults and even threatened her. The ongoing backlash on the street and two physical attacks by angry mobs on motorbikes forced the couple to relocate to Tajikistan. Now, the couple is back in Kabul, according to the BBC.
Traditional social pressures persist in the nation and, as with Paradise, violence against female public figures continues to occur, such as the recent fatal shooting of Lieutenant Negar, aprominent female police officer. The Guardian further reported that “female police officers seem to be a favorite target of insurgents, and several have been threatened or killed.”
Despite the risks for high-profile women, 143Band performed in the Sound Central Festival andShana Ba Shana Peace Concert in Afghanistan recently. Yet, even the peace concert was divided into a performance for a female-only audience and one the next day for families.
“Generally, singing for females in Afghanistan is not acceptable to most people … When I am rapping, I am saying true things that some men do not want to hear. They hate to hear that I am encouraging women and informing them about their rights,” said Paradise.
Rap as a tool for social activism is not entirely new in the region: During the Arab Spring, mostly male rappers released videos on YouTube to express opposition to authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Libyan rapper Ibn Thabit attempted to raise global awareness about injustices under the dictatorship of Muammar al-Gaddafi.
While male rappers fighting for social change through their lyrics are more common, the emergence of a female rapper like Paradise may signify a shift in the genre in the Middle East.
“In Afghanistan, being a male singer is okay nowadays; being a female singer some people accept, some reject,” said Paradise. “It is risky, but I love taking risks.”