For using rap music to empower the girls of Afghanistan
When Sonita Alizadeh was 16 years old, her mother came to her with news that would turn her world upside down: Sonita was to be sold into marriage.
In her native Afghanistan, it was an all too common story — in fact, her family had already tried selling her once when she was 10. But the teenager’s reaction was anything but ordinary. She decided to rebel — and use music to do so.
“I scream to make up for a woman’s lifetime silence,” Alizadeh raps in “Daughters for Sale.” “I scream on behalf of the deep wounds on my body. I scream for a body exhausted in its cage — a body that broke under the price tags you put on it.”
As a young child, Alizadeh fled to Iran with her family to escape the Taliban. There, she learned to read and write at an NGO for Afghan refugees and took a special interest in poetry and music. Iranian rapper Yas and American rapper Eminem were among her biggest influences.
In her new home, she challenged authority once more. Defying an Iranian law that prohibited women from singing, she recorded songs about being a refugee, about the Afghanistan war, and about being a young woman. From Tehran, she even won $1,000 in a U.S.-based competition for a music video encouraging young Afghans to vote — undercutting her family’s belief that girls have no economic potential.
None of this was enough to stop her parents from arranging the marriage. Alizadeh’s mother, who had moved back to Afghanistan, instructed her to return home to meet her future husband. They said they needed the money so her brother could buy his own bride. But Alizadeh recorded her powerful and evocative video — "Daughters for Sale” — and uploaded it to YouTube. Eventually, her family relented and decided she didn’t need to get married. The video went viral and has since inspired countless other Afghan women.
Today, Alizadeh lives in the United States and is a passionate advocate for ending child marriage. She has shared the stage with heads of state, Nobel Laureates, renowned changemakers, and has helped develop a curriculum on child marriage for over one million students. Her message about ending child marriage is reaching the highest levels of global leadership and civil society, and her story and vision have been shared worldwide.
Through her music and advocacy, Alizadeh wants to inspire people to rethink demeaning and destructive traditions. She aims high and is working to impact systems, policies, and beliefs that keep girls from living their full potential. "If I can change [my parents’] minds with my music,” she says, “then maybe I can change the world.”