Eighteen-year-old Sonita Alizadeh’s mom talked about selling her to a man when she was only 10 years old. At the time, Sonita and her family lived in Afghanistan, where forced marriage is still common. That’s when Sonita began to rap. After posting a video to YouTube, she was awarded a full scholarship to a music school in the U.S.
According to a report from CNN, Sonita’s family fled the Taliban in Afghanistan and moved to Iran while she was just a girl. After learning how to read and write, she fell in love with music videos, rap and Eminem. She started rapping about her life — the war in Afghanistan, her family’s refugee status, and the issues facing Afghan women and youth.
Afghan civil law says that a girl cannot marry until she is 16, or 15 with her father’s consent, but the United Nations claims that some 15% of Afghan females are married before age 15. Of all Afghan marriages combined, roughly 60 to 80% of them are forced.
CNN also reported that “singing solo as a female is illegal in Iran without special permission from the government,” but that Sonita was able to “rap in secret with the help of a few defiant music producers.”
When Sonita turned 16, her mother began talking about selling her into marriage again. This time Sonita was old enough to know what that meant. She was terrified about her fate, so she responded by teaming up with an Iranian filmmaker and creating the music video for her song “Brides For Sale.” In the video, she wears a wedding veil, fake bruises, and a bar code on her forehead while rapping lyrics like “Let me scream/I am tired of the silence/Lift your hands off me/I feel suffocated.”
On YouTube, it caught the attention of the Strongheart Group, which gives exposure to voices of traditionally marginalized. They offered her a visa and a full scholarship to Wasatch Academy in Utah.
Sonita didn’t tell her mother because she was afraid she wouldn’t let her go. According to CNN, she was 17 when the paperwork finally went through. She left her mother’s side and didn’t contact her to let her know what she’d done until she’d safely arrived in the U.S. That was last January. Now, Sonita is thriving the U.S. and is hard at work on some new music.
She’s pretty famous now too. Just last week Sonita performed at London’s Women In The World summit. There is also a documentary about her journey called “Sonita” that is due to premier at the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam next month.
“In my country a good girl should be silent, don’t talk about her future and listen to her family even if they say you have to marry him or him or him,” Sonita said at the summit. “A good girl is like a dog, who they play with. But I am a singer and I want a shiny future.”
Sonita says she doesn’t resent her mother. In fact, her mother now takes pride in her daughter’s music career.
“My mother was 13 when she was married,” she said. “Everyone had told her that she was a woman and had no value. This is what her family has told her and that is what she believed. My music was a nightmare for her. Now, she is one of my biggest fans.”