Afghanistan: Ban on women singers debated in Herat

15 March 2010
A Morality and Knowledge Association recently established in Herat wants to ban women’s voices from the airwaves, reported Jean MacKenzie and Rateb Muzhda from Herat

The privately owned association has about 60 staffers, says its director, Aminullah Mohtasem, all of whom work voluntarily. Jean MacKenzie and Rateb Muzhda wrote in their article which was published by Minn Post on 10 March 2010:

“Over the past few weeks the association has intensified its campaign against the media by sending members to various outlets to lobby for a stricter interpretation of Islamic culture when making programming choices. In particular, they are against music by women singers, which they insist is prohibited by Islam.”

Support from women’s radio station
Herat’s religious institutions allegedly wholeheartedly support the movement, and according to the reporters, the association is receiving a surprising amount of support in Herat, normally considered one of the more relaxed areas of Afghanistan. The Taliban, with their restrictive policies on women and entertainment, were extremely unpopular in this province, which sits on the border with Iran.

“Airing women’s voices and showing them dancing promotes corruption in society,” said Khalil Ahmad, editor-in-chief of the Radio Faryad. “Our radio tries to avoid broadcasting women’s voices, in order to avoid problems from religious groups.”

Homaira Habib, who heads Herat’s only women’s radio station, Radio Sahar, also says that she supports the association.

“I believe that [the association’s] activities will help to strengthen the country’s genuine culture and promote the airing of religious issues in the media,” she said. “The negative aspects of foreign culture which promote corruption will be rooted out.”

She declined to say whether women’s singing would be completely banned from Radio Sahar.

There are, however, some voices protesting the increasing conservatism in Herat’s media.Abdul Qadir Rahimi, regional director of the Human Rights Commission, said that the association should stop attacking the media and pay more attention to the law.”The Constitution of Afghanistan gives women the right to raise their voices in song,” he said. “If groups like this act outside of the legal framework, it will cause chaos.”

Article 22 of Afghanistan’s Constitution bans all forms of discrimination based on gender, and states that men and women shall have equal rights and privileges under the law.

But it is a provision that is still honored more in the breach than in the observance. Women face a host of restrictions in their daily lives that are not visited on their male counterparts, a fact that Adela Kabiri, lecturer in journalism at Herat University, finds quite galling.

“When people talk about corruption in society, they always blame the women,” she said. “They say that women should not sing, that they should respect hijab [the Islamic practice of veiling women]. Don’t men sing? Don’t they appear without head coverings? Evil is evil, whether done by a man or a woman.”

A losing battle
The association is fighting a losing battle, said Jawad Tabesh, a prominent musician in Herat who also operates one of the country’s only music training centers for women.

“This Morality and Knowledge Association cannot stop music in Afghanistan,” he was quoted as saying. “Like it or not, the world is going forward. People today can watch whatever they want, and listen to whatever they want, through cable television, satellite dishes, and the internet.”

The reporters also talked to Omed Samim, a 22-year-old Herati musician. He was not worried in the least by the Morality and Knowledge Association:

“These actions cannot stop girls from singing,” he said. “They would have to close down all television stations and all radios. Nowadays people can always just change the channel.”




Minn Post – 10 March 2010:

‘A new group of fundamentalists tries to force its morality on cultural life in Afghanistan’

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