Latifa Azizi is a contestant in Afghanistan’s hit talent show, “Afghan Star”.
Like the others a coach gives her tips to improve her singing and a make-up artist does her hair and makeup. But unlike the others, Azizi’s TV appearances bring threats to her life and that of her family.
They fled their hometown of Mazar-i-Sharif for the Afghan capital, Kabul soon after she made it on to the show. Her community was angry with her appearance, saying it was un-Islamic for a woman to sing and appear on television. The family began to receive death threats.
“I am scared. I have received death threats from unknown people after joining this program; I have many problems and concerns about going back to my home town in Mazar-e-Sharif. If the situation is OK there for me to go, why not? I want to go,” Azizi told Reuters in the show’s dressing room.
With an audience of 11 million, the six-year-old show has become an important vehicle for young Afghans aspiring to become famous singers.
“Despite all these problems I still want to go ahead and become a professional singer in the future,” Azizi said, wearing a scarf loosely covering a fancy television hairstyle and outfit.
On the day of the interview, she survived another elimination round, boosting her confidence.
Her family is giving her full support.
“I was worried at the beginning. We are of the Turkmen tribe and our relatives disagreed with my daughter about her singing. But when I see that my daughter is doing well I decided to leave Mazar-e-Sharif and come to Kabul so I’ll stay here while my daughter is on the program and I support her,” said her father, Sayed Ghulam Shah Azizi after watching another episode of the talent show in his home with his family.
The backlash Azizi faces is not out of the ordinary for Afghan women who become public figures. Female actors and singers are often harassed, and sometimes beaten and killed.
Azizi and the only other female contestant receive constant threats. People follow their cars as they travel to rehearsals to try to discourage them from attending.
“Afghan women are facing the same problems that they faced 50 years ago. We should be improving day by day but the situation of Afghan women remains backwards. There are still problems for women to perform music. There are conditions that limit them. Music in fact is a nice thing and women should to be able to perform,” said singer and “Afghan Star” judge Shahla Zaland, whose mother was also a famous singer in the 1960s.
During the 1996-2001 reign of the Taliban, women were banned from school, voting and most work. They were not allowed to leave their homes without a man.
Many women’s rights have been painstakingly won back since the Taliban’s overthrow, but there are fears violence against women is under-reported.
“According Islamic religion Sharia law women performing sing song in public is prohibited. Islam totally rejects the woman show up on the stage with sexy and half sexy clothes to sing songs or dancing in public,” said Mazharuddin Faiz, a cleric in Kabul who does not agree with Azizi’s appearance on television.
Last year also saw a worrying spike in violence, including several cases of female school students being poisoned.
This has led to fears that, when most NATO-led forces withdraw from the country next year, women may once again be subject to Taliban-style repression and violence.