AILSA CHANG, HOST:
Afghan women are singing in defiance.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in non-English language).
CHANG: That is because last week, Kabul's education directorate banned women above the age of 12 from singing in public. Now, one by one, they're uploading videos of themselves singing, using the hashtag #IAmMySong.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Activists call the ban discriminatory and extremist.
AHMAD SARMAST: We hope that the rights of the Afghan people will not be compromised.
KELLY: That is Dr. Ahmad Sarmast. He's founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. His group launched the I Am My Song campaign.
SARMAST: That campaign to protect the voice of our girls clearly showed that the people of Afghanistan are not ready to return back to the Stone Ages. They're not ready to give up their rights, their freedom, their equality under the name of peace.
CHANG: Sarmast says acts like this could open the door to further discrimination.
SARMAST: It's in a way paving the way for more discriminative and more exclusions. Any exclusion begins with something small. But depriving the girls of Afghanistan from their right to sing - it's not something small. It's a big issue, and it is the human rights issue here.
CHANG: The uproar caught the attention of Afghanistan's Education Ministry, who distanced themselves from the ban and said it would investigate. But Sarmast is calling on the Education Ministry to speak out against the ban.
SARMAST: I call on the minister of education - rather than banning and silencing the women and the girls of Afghanistan, please focus on peace education. Please enlighten and teach our kids that peace is important.
KELLY: This all comes amidst peace talks between Afghan leaders and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar. The two groups are trying to negotiate a way forward for the country. Sarmast says those talks are critical, but they cannot compromise basic rights.
SARMAST: We are tired of killing. We are tired of blood of innocent people spilled on the streets of Kabul on a daily basis. But we all want a dignifying peace, a peace in which rights of everyone is respected, a peace in which gender equality is protected, respected and ensured.
CHANG: Ahmad Sarmast in Kabul - he's founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music.
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