On August 19, Afghanistan celebrated its 98th independence day. But in a popular hotel in Kabul, a woman celebrated her own independence by performing at a concert. This woman is 32-year-old Aryana Sayeed, also known as Afghanistan’s Kim Kardashian. She bears a physical likeness to the reality TV star, and often dresses like her, but that’s where the similarities end. Unlike Kardashian, Sayeed faces death threats on a regular basis just for being herself.
Born in Kabul, Aryana left Afghanistan at the age of eight when her parents decided to move to Pakistan and, eventually, to Switzerland and then London. Now a judge of a talent show for singers, Aryana knew she was going to be a musician from a young age. In Switzerland, she joined a choir when she was only 12.
“It wasn’t for long but that definitely made me realize what I wanted to become when I grew older,” she told The Voice of Afghanistan.
Aryana graduated college in Business Administration and decided to pursue a career in music soon after. In a short span of time, she won several awards for her music and was known to be the first Afghan artist whose song was telecast on international TV channels.
The conservatives in Afghanistan hate Aryana Sayeed and would like nothing more than to erase her existence. She doesn’t cover her hair, dances and sings in public, and wears “revealing” Western clothes. But Aryana is not one to bow down easily. She does what she wants to do, even after receiving repeated threats. And this defiant attitude has earned her hundreds of fans in her home country, as was apparent with the turnout at her concert. The show was supposed to be held at a larger venue, at a stadium which could accommodate thousands, but was later shifted to a hotel for security reasons. Even then, young Afghans flocked to her concert and cheered her on as she ignored extremists and their threats.
Threats to her safety had started as soon as the independence day concert was announced.
“I will do it regardless of any consequences,”
she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We have already sold more than 4,000 tickets, which shows how people love music, dancing and happiness.”
While conservatives had said they would not allow “such dances and acts of disbelief” to continue, Aryana’s fans and women’s rights activists came out on social media to support her.
“Stopping Ariana Sayeed’s concert is an attack on all women’s identity and freedom,”
a fan said on her Facebook page. “We won’t let this happen to us. I will go to this concert.”
Aryana plans to donate all the revenue generated from her concert to the families of those killed and displaced in a recent terrorist attack in Mirza Olang village.
“I think Afghans need reasons to smile,” she says. “Afghans have suffered a lot and it has taken a toll on their psychological health as well. They have lost hope. The youngsters are fleeing the country because they don’t see any future prospects.”
She may be known as the Kim Kardashian of Afghanistan but Aryana Sayeed is doing a lot more than just fulfilling an image. She is becoming the voice of the young Afghan woman who wants the same freedom and liberty as her peers in other countries; she wants to be able to roam free in her home country and not have to cover her hair or her face or any other part of herself because of religious extremism.
Several women like Aryana Sayeed, including Pakistan’s Qandeel Baloch, have tried to speak out against conservatism and live their lives according to their own norms. But not everyone manages to escape the danger of extremism. Qandeel Baloch was murdered by her own brother for bringing “dishonour” to her family. Her death caused a massive outcry against “honour” killings and prompted reactions from across the world condemning such violence against women.
Aryana Sayeed took an enormously brave step by going ahead with her concert on Afghanistan’s independence day. Now, it’s the turn of the policy makers and those in power to take notice of the female population of the country and finally give them their long overdue rights.