18-year-old Sonita Alizadeh never expected her love of rap music to change her life. When the Afghan-born singer was 14 years old, she was devastated to learn that her parents were arranging a marriage for her. In response, she wrote and recorded a powerful song called “Brides for Sale.” Not only did it change her parents’ minds, but the attention her music video generated has led to new opportunities and given her the chance to speak out on behalf of girls forced into child marriages around the world.
Sonita fled Afghanistan with her family to Tehran, Iran when she was eight years old. She discovered a non-profit organization that offered programs for undocumented Afghan kids; there she learned karate, photography, and had her first lessons in singing and rapping. Her lyrical ability quickly caught people’s attention, and she started working with an Iranian director who helped her polish her style and make her first music videos. She had high hopes for pursuing her interest in music until one day her mother told her: ‘You have to return to Afghanistan with me. There’s a man there who wants to marry you. Your brother’s engaged and we need your dowry money to pay for his wedding.”
Crushed by the prospect of being forced into a child marriage, Sonita poured her feelings into a new song, “Brides for Sale.” In the music video, she appears dressed as a bride with a bruised face and a barcode on her forehead. It begins: “Let me whisper, so no one hears that I speak of selling girls. My voice shouldn’t be heard since it’s against Sharia. Women must remain silent… this is our tradition.” She was worried what her parents would think of the video, but to her relief, they loved it and told her she didn’t have to marry. “It means so much to me that my family went against our tradition for me,” Sonita said in an interview with PRI. “Now I’m somewhere that I never imagined I could be.”
Sonita’s music attracted such attention that she was offered a full scholarship to an arts academy in Utah and she recently held her first US concert in San Francisco. Although Sonita is thrilled by the opportunities she’s finding in the US, her heart remains back home with the millions of women she knows still live with discrimination, forced marriage, and worse. She told PRI, “I sometimes I think about the fact that I could have been a mother right now — with a few kids. It’s not a thought I like.” But she hopes that her music can make a difference for other girls and women like her: “Rap music lets you tell your story to other people. Rap music is a platform to share the words that are in my heart.”
To learn more about the crisis of child marriage worldwide, photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair’s eight-year-long investigation into the practice has been turned into a 10-minute video call to action by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Watch the video, “Too Young to Wed: The Secret World of Child Brides,” which is not recommended for young viewers due to graphic content.
To learn more about the movement to end child marriage and how to get involved, visit Girls Not Brides, a global partnership of over 300 civil society organizations from around the world.
For several books about Mighty Girls who fought against child marriages, check out “Homeless Bird” for ages 9 to 13 (http://www.amightygirl.com/homeless-bird), “The Lightning Dreamer” for ages 13 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/the-lightning-dreamer), and “I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced” for ages 16 and up (http://www.amightygirl.com/i-am-nujood).
For stories of both real-life and fictional girls and women confronting gender discrimination and prejudice in a multitude of forms, visit our “Gender Discrimination” section at http://www.amightygirl.com/books/social-issues/prejudice-discrimination?cat=69
For a highly recommended book for older teens and adults that discusses how girls and women are fighting back against oppression and transforming their communities, check out: “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” at http://www.amightygirl.com/half-the-sky
There are also two films that explore the transformative potential and power of girls and women in developing countries – both for ages 13 and up: the documentary based on the “Half the Sky” book (http://www.amightygirl.com/half-the-sky-documentary) and “Girl Rising” (http://www.amightygirl.com/girl-rising).