The Afghan Singing Tree of Women’s Strength and Freedom
When the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 2021, Singing Tree Facilitator Anita Khatkani of Mumbai, India, and Unity Through Creativity founder, Laurie Marshall, of El Paso, Texas expressed their heartbreak by co-designing this mural. Afghanistan’s national bird - the golden eagle, its national tree - the pomegranate, and its national animal - the snow leopard – are all included. A map of Afghanistan is surrounded by a blood red line to represent the unearned suffering of the country. The young woman – denied education, autonomy, freedom - is held by the tree with a crown of pomegranates and leaves. Students in Dana Elemdorf’s Art Therapy program at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania contributed pomegranates and leaves.
Meeting athlete Neema Soratgar, a guest Research Scholar in UTEP’s Women’s Studies Center, added new dimension to the painting. Hearing her story of barely escaping the Taliban with her life, Neema’s strength and courage became symbolized by the snow leopard mother. The two cubs are her twin children. The exiled family all worked on and guided the painting. Volunteers in UTEP’s Women’s Study Center also spent many hours painting together and learning about the land and people of Afghanistan from Neema. Members of the Interfaith Alliance of the Southwest also added their support for the women and girls of Afghanistan by making leaves. After working for a year, the painting was unveiled at the International Day of Peace Celebration at Keystone Heritage Park.
“Through the artistry and actions of this project, our Singing Tree Mural exemplifies a tireless commitment to making the world a better place for all of humanity.”
- Neema Soratgar
Neema Soratgar's Speech at the International Day of Peace Celebration
"I am honored to stand here with this diverse and elite group of individuals today, united by a shared commitment to peace!
Today, on this auspicious occasion of the international week of Peace, we gather here to think about the dire situation that has plagued Afghanistan women under the shadow of political Islam. This is the day we come together to bring ourselves to peace and justice, to extend our hands in solidarity with those who are suffering, and to defend the rights and dignity of Afghanistan women.
The world has watched as Afghanistan transitioned to a regime where political Islam has taken center stage and they are satisfied with just saying that we are concerned For Afghan women, while this transition has brought about a cloud of fear, and the threat of regressive policies that could strip away women’s basic rights and freedoms. In these challenging times, we must stand in unwavering support of Afghanistan women, who have long been the unsung heroes their nation.Afghanistan has a rich history, where women have played pivotal roles in shaping the social fabric of their country. For years, they have been educators, healthcare workers, entrepreneurs, and leaders in their communities. They have been strong and persevered in the face of adversity. However, under the tyrannical grip of political Islam, their future hangs in the balance and is like being buried alive.
In a country that half a decade ago was one of the happiest countries in the world, now its girls and women are suffering from various types of violence (openly and secretly) and oppression and are deprived of the right to education and work. I was in my country during the first period of the Taliban and I was when they were brought into power again, I am in contact with my family, my former students, athletes, and my colleagues every day, and I am also working on research on this issue, I hear and am aware of their pain and suffering, and this hurts me as a human and as a woman from that country. Most of them say that we are in fear and destitution due to the mental and psychological problems that have plagued us, another says that the worst kind of life is when your destiny is in the hands of someone else and against your pure wishes, and another one of my colleagues said "If one Talib is outside the house, there are many Talibs are fighting with us inside the house, and that is either a husband or a brother or a father because they used male domination and instilled fear in others to impose their willpower." One of the athlete girls said that I never thought of myself as so weak, I used to sleep with a beautiful dream of becoming a champion and now I have nightmares at night.
We have a saying that a broken hand can work, but a broken heart does not! The sister of one of my friends, despite their poor economy, studied day and night and tried to take the Konkor exam which is the university entrance exam, after changing the power to Taliban soldures and due to her unemployment and poverty, her father wanted her to marry an old man for money, and she rejected this marriage. She was hit in the head, lost her nerves, and locked herself in a room with her books and didn’t want to leave the room. Another friend of mine for many years had a beauty salon, from which she supported her five close families, and sometimes I introduced to her some women who were looking for a job so that she could work in the salon, but now salons are closed by Taliban, she called me crying and said, "Neema, how can I find food for twelve children of our families?"
It is our moral duty, as global citizens, and advocates for peace, to extend our support and protection to the Afghanistan women who are living in the shadow of uncertainty. We must remember that peace is not a one-sided endeavor. To the leaders and decision-makers who have the power to influence the fate of Afghanistan's people, I implore you to consider the profound implications of your actions. Women's rights are not a matter of convenience or cultural relativism; they are universal, inalienable rights and Women's rights is God-given rights. It is incumbent upon those who wield power to uphold these rights and ensure that the women of Afghanistan are not left behind. I call on the brave and sacrificial women of Afghanistan who are in every corner of this world to continue to fight for peace, social justice, and freedom with tireless efforts alongside women who are under unjust domination. world women together can be the voices of Afghanistan’s women on the international stage. Be the voice that has been silenced by the world's indifference to their situation and from the severity of the pain. Human rights and social justice for all is peace.Thank you for being here today in this noble endeavor and strive for a more just and peaceful world.
El Paso, TX, USA