Sonita Alizadeh (@SonitaAlizadeh) : A woman who has defied both brutality and stereotypes


Son­ita Aliz­a­deh is an Afghan refugee. She is just 19 years old. But the hor­rors she has seen have gran­ted her a wis­dom that tran­scends her age. Her youth belies her exper­i­ences. These are exper­i­ences that no one, par­tic­u­larly chil­dren and adoles­cents, should suf­fer. She is also an incred­ible hip hop artist. Hip hop was inven­ted for people like Son­ita. The genre is a plat­form that elev­ates those mar­gin­al­ised in soci­ety. It breaks down bound­ar­ies.  It was con­ceived to be a voice for the voice­less and there is no group more mar­gin­al­ised and ali­en­ated than refugees. The sad irony is that those who fled from war in their home coun­tries then when reach­ing free­dom in demo­crat­ic coun­tries such as Bri­tain and then found that they had to fight anoth­er kind of war. That is the kind of war that encom­passes racism and the real­isa­tion that they are not wanted by all in the coun­tries that they ended up.

It is a long road from a war torn Afgh­anistan to first dis­cov­er­ing, and then util­ising Hip Hop as a means of speak­ing out against human rights trans­gres­sions. Son­ita epi­tom­ises the beauty of music as a whole, and in this case hip hop. It is hard to think of any­one who is the com­plete anti­thes­is of the ste­reo­type that is propag­ated about, and some­times by some rap­pers them­selves. Cer­tainly, myself included, we do not con­jure up the image of a teen­age muslim Afghan refugee when we think of rap. She still wears a hijab. She is cur­rently study­ing on a schol­ar­ship in the US.

In Afgha­nastan her fam­ily tried to sell her for $9,000 into a mar­riage she did not sanc­tion and did not want. This, an exper­i­ence that hap­pens to many women in numer­ous coun­tries across the globe, inspired her track ’Brides for sale’. Cer­tainly her per­son­al exper­i­ence explains the pro­found lyr­ics that give the song such deep­ness. She begs us to listen to her. Oth­ers echo that. This is some­thing we all need to hear if we are to open our eyes to the exper­i­ences of such women. This song is har­row­ing in its words.  “My voice shouldn’t be head, for it is against sharia. Women must remain silent. It is the city’s tra­di­tion. I scream to make up for a women’s silent. I scream on behalf of the deep wounds on my body”. This is cath­arsis in its truest form. “I am fif­teen from Her­at and suit­ors come, I am con­fused. Like all oth­er girls I am caged. I am seen only as a sheep to be devoured. Let me scream. I am tired of being silenced.” She wants the world to know the truth; the suf­fer­ing of women under an oppress­ive régime. The words are hard. But we must not turn our backs for this is pre­cisely what happened to her in Afgh­anistan. The world turned their col­lect­ive backs.


As a prac­tising Muslim, she clearly knows the Quar­an back to front, inside out. She wants to share her know­ledge because she stresses that she wishes that people knew that it doesn’t say women are for sale. Son­ita was put up for sale in order to accrue enough money for her broth­er to buy a bride. In an inter­view with the BBC she says that women like her, forced into mar­riage, view their hus­bands as rap­ists. This is because, of course, these men are often vir­tu­al strangers, and the act of uni­on is against their wishes and con­sent. At fif­teen, Son­ita was still a child for such adult under­tak­ings.

She says that to pre­vent this from hap­pen­ing repeatedly to oth­er young girls she attends many con­fer­ences and events to both speak and raise aware­ness. She, and oth­er young women like her, speak for people to hear their stor­ies, and, she stresses, will con­tin­ue to until they are heard by “Offi­cials and gov­ern­ments”.

Son­ita helps us to con­tex­tu­al­ise our prob­lems. Once we see what is hap­pen­ing under such oppress­ive regimes, some of our own prob­lems may feel a little bit smal­ler. While polit­ic­ally this coun­try is in dis­ar­ray, stor­ies such as these help us to remem­ber how lucky we are to be born in a first world demo­cracy, and how where we are born dic­tates our oppor­tun­it­ies, situ­ations, and even lifespan. We may at times detest our gov­ern­ment. We more than likely detest Don­ald Trump and the US gov­ern­ment. But we will not be bru­tal­ised for that. This indic­ates that we have a free­dom that people like Son­ita, at the time of her exist­ence in a state that not only did bru­tal­ise people, espe­cially did so to women.

She told the Columbia Tribune that becom­ing a rap­per was nev­er on her agenda. She just wanted to share her exper­i­ences. She had nev­er heard rap until work­ing in a gym and real­ised very quickly that it was a unique for­um to get her voice heard. Not only did she recog­nise it as a tool for social change, but found it to be “one of the most power­ful forces to share import­ant mes­sages”.

Son­ita wants to be a law­yer for women’s rights and human rights. And she wants people to know that “girls have power, and they can have a future”. Against the back­drop of a dark past, she wants a bright future. Son­ita is well on the way to achiev­ing this goal. Com­pare the fact that she is study­ing at one of the best uni­ver­sit­ies in the world to the shock­ing rev­el­a­tion that she was just 10 when her fam­ily first tried to sell her and you have a young woman who is already a start­ling suc­cess.  She feels that when girls are mar­ried at very young ages they are being raped and the world needs to know this.

An Ira­ni­an doc­u­ment­ary maker, Rokh­sareh Ghaem Maghami, filmed her over the peri­od of three years, and doc­u­mented her story in a remark­able film “Son­ita”. She filmed this to escape from the mar­riage being planned for her. The video for “Brides for Sale” also emerged from this even though it is illeg­al for women to sing pub­lic­ally in Iran, where she was resid­ing at the time. This turned out to be the key to free­dom. Not only was it pop­u­lar with women in Afgh­anistan but ulti­mately altered the path of her life.  She was picked up by a char­ity Strong­heart, and was sub­sequently offered a stu­dent visa to study in the United States.

It was Iran where she first dis­covered rap. She first heard Ira­ni­an rap­per Yas, while clean­ing bath­rooms while she taught her­self lit­er­acy hav­ing being declined an edu­ca­tion pre­vi­ously. She also heard Eminem, a hip hop act she loved. She star­ted writ­ing her own songs and won a US com­pet­i­tion with a song that urged people to vote in elec­tions in Afgh­anistan. At just 16,after win­ning the com­pet­i­tion, her moth­er begged her to return home because she has found a poten­tial hus­band. By selling her own daugh­ter she thought she could raise the $9000 dowry to pay the dowry for her son’s mar­riage

Son­ita now she lives in Utah and attends Wasatch Academy on a full schol­ar­ship, and con­tin­ues to write songs. She is an inspir­a­tion for women glob­ally who are in the situ­ation she has been in. Polit­ic­ally and cre­at­ively she is a fig­ure­head. But where does she stand with her fam­ily? Iron­ic­ally though, whilst her Moth­er ini­tially hated her daughter’s choice of expres­sion, the New York Times has said she is now her biggest fan.

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Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor is a Lon­don based writer whose Interests are based primar­ily on music and art and also the philo­sophies and polit­ics that accom­pany them. In addi­tion she has an Msc in psy­cho­logy, has worked as a ther­ap­ist, and paints abstract art pieces.

About Kate Taylor

Kate Taylor
Kate Taylor is a London based writer whose Interests are based primarily on music and art and also the philosophies and politics that accompany them. In addition she has an Msc in psychology, has worked as a therapist, and paints abstract art pieces.