The youth of Afghanistan are making their unapologetic mark on the world. Just over a month ago, the Afghan Girl Robotics Team flew to Washington, D.C. to show the world just how powerful a girl can be. The team were winners before the countdown even began, but their resilience earned them unlikely sources of support and the prestigious silver Medal of Courageous Achievement at the Global F1RST competition. They made the world proud, because they were given a chance.
These girls are not alone in their courage. Despite terrorism, war, and violence, youth, especially women, are pushing Afghanistan forward. Besides STEM, initiatives in the arts, sports and music are breaking new ground in what were formerly considered taboo fields. Using these mediums as a platform for speaking out against injustice proves that Afghan youth will not take injustice sitting down or put their creativity to rest.
Among these creative visionaries is “ArtLords”, are a collective of young Afghan artists who paint graffiti murals to spread messages of anti-corruption, education, equality and critical thinking. Challenging archaic beliefs and practices on the most public of spaces allows ArtLords the frontier for forming a more tolerant and pluralistic Afghanistan.
Afghan youth also use music as an outlet for the injustices they face. 18-year-old Sonita Alizadeh is among the country’s most popular rappers. After fleeing to Iran to escape the Taliban, Sonita’s family wanted to marry her to receive dowry money to pay for her brothers’ wedding. Sonita refused, escaping teen marriage by singing about it. Her song Dokhtar Forooshi or “Daughters for Sale,” features Sonita with a barcode on her forehead, bruised face and donning a wedding dress. Sonita changed her family’s mind about selling her in marriage, but she has done more than that. Today she uses her voice to advocate against forced marriage and other forms of violence against women.
Sonita also sings about what it was like growing up as a refugee and dealing with the deadly consequences of war. Her talent has been recognized at a global level, and she earned a full scholarship to a college prep school in the United States. Between classes, she has held concerts in New York and San Francisco. She has been named one of BBC’s 100 Women of 2015, Teen Vogue’s “Faces of Feminism”, and Foreign Policy Magazine’s Global Thinkers of 2015.
While Sonita has been breaking boundaries by lending her music to causes she feels passionate about, the all-girl orchestra in Kabul have made headlines around the world for their bravery. These are just a few examples of efforts led by youth. Whether it is through STEM, music, filmmaking, or journalism, young Afghans have been at the center of innovative and impactful work. Their ambitious ideas for fostering peace and progress can’t be ignored. Youth have shown the world that they have the potential to be the antidote to terrorism and war in Afghanistan. It is now on our leaders and elders to make sure they open the way for them to lead.