Zahra Elham with her Award
KABUL: Zahra Elham is the the first woman to win the popular singing competition Afghan Star. Elham’s victory comes as fears grow that women could lose hard-won rights if the United States agrees on a peace deal with the Taliban.
Elham, in her 20s and from Afghanistan’s Hazara ethnic minority, won first place from her male runner-up on Afghan Star in which hundreds of men and women have competed for in the last 14 seasons.
“I popped the hearts of men out of their chests today,” a happy Elham told the audience during the contest’s finale late Thursday.Zahra Elham
“I am so so happy, I cannot even find words to express my feelings… Today, I represent all the girls of Afghanistan. Today not only Zahra Elham but all the girls in Afghanistan have won,” she said amid cheers, applause and even tears from the admiring audience. Known for her high pitch and raspy voice, she had previously said she wanted to break the grasp of male winners on the competition, first launched in 2005 and one of Afghanistan’s most popular television shows.
“Your win is a slap in the face of jealous Afghan men,” Sonita Rasa wrote on Zahra’s Facebook page.
“Hope you don’t disappear after this big win and hope the situation allows you to continue to get to your dreams,” Tanin, another user, wrote.
As talks between Washington and the Taliban aimed at ending the long war progress, many Afghans fear a premature US withdrawal could see the Taliban return to some semblance of power.
Young women, keenly aware of how their gender was banished behind doors and beneath burkas under Taliban rule, are among the most vocal in warning they will not compromise their hard-won rights if the insurgents return.
The Taliban have given few details of what they want in Afghanistan, and it is unclear what a post-conflict government would look like – but under their strict interpretation of Islam the militants have never been in favour of women, or shows like Afghan Star.
“Peace is on its way, hope the future peace has the Afghan Star contest in it,” Mustafa Azizyar, the show’s presenter said, after presenting the trophy.