Zohra is Afghanistan’s first all-women orchestra. Thirty women, between the ages of 13 and 20, make up Zohra, and they all study music at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Music was banned under the rule of the Taliban, which lasted from 1996 to 2001, and so, many of the women are the first in their families to study music in over 30 years.
Zarifa Adiba, the orchestra’s conductor and also Afghanistan’s first female conductor, says that in Afghanistan, “good girls” are those who listen to their fathers, never go to school, and stay at home. Adiba says that unfortunately, she is a bad girl, because she wants her human rights, she wants to study and she wants to do what she loves. And so she does.
Several members of the group have received death threats for joining the orchestra, because people believe that studying and performing music brings shame to the family’s name. Some of the death threats have even come from family members, with one member’s uncle swearing to kill her whenever he sees her next, and another’s grandmother threatening to disown her son if he “allows” the young student to continue in the orchestra.
Despite many of the saying that they fear for their very lives, they continue to study, practice and perform music. Early this year, the orchestra even played at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and it’s because they’re really, really good.