For 20-year-old Negin Khpalwak, music was never just a hobby. It was illegal to play and listen to music under the Taliban, and the regime banned public music-making and ordered the destruction of musical instruments. Following the Taliban's collapse in 2001, nine-year-old Khpalwak travelled to Kabul to receive an education in the hope of one day becoming a composer. Like many families, Khpalwak's relatives, who live in Afghanistan's deeply conservative Kunar region, have remained staunchly opposed to her studies.
Despite the fact that music is now legal, the Taliban's corrosive influence on the rights of women and girls has polluted their continued battle for education access. Just last year, a music hall that Khpalwak's classmates were performing in was attacked by those who opposed the concert.
Khpalwak isn't letting these obstacles silence her music, though. She has become one of Afghanistan's first female conductor and the leader of Zohra, a 35-member, all-women ensemble. While Khpalwak achieved her lifelong ambition of becoming a working musician, her story highlights the enduring social challenges that still stop many Afghan women from chasing their dreams beyond their homes and families.
Want to know more Negin's incredible story? Check out this up-close look at the women of Afghanistan's ongoing struggle for equality.