A message of courage and transformation from Kabul to Davos

“Zohra” conveyed the message of young Afghan women to the world leaders in Davos; to the diplomatic community, UN, students and public in Geneva; and to the public in Zurich.

January 2017, Geneva

Afghanistan is known for being a land of beauty and challenges, aspirations and struggles; where everyday life can be constrained with insecurity and trauma, or inspired with love and determination for a better life. The conflict and the suicide attacks have taken their cruelly toll on almost all walks of life; targeting schools and universities, clinics, sport fields, road passengers and even public mourning events; denying life for civilians including women and children.

Afghanistan is also known for its old civilization, its courageous people and the potential in its young population. This reflection is, however, about how an innovation and commitment when met with opportunities could transform the life of young women and in turn help the country in building a peaceful, just and civil society. The Afghan Women Orchestra “Zohra” is a group of over 30 girls, aged 13 to 20, who have defied the odds against them and chosen music for their education and career. Many students in “Zohra” Orchestra are from poor families, are orphans and used to be street children; whose childhoods were shattered with the loss of loved ones, displacement, conflict and extreme poverty. And today they are the first women in their country to learn music in over 30 years. This is a significant progress in Afghanistan where less than two decades ago, during the Taliban Regime, music was forbidden; listening to music, playing music and possessing musical paraphernalia were outlawed and were subject to punishment – let alone if this was by women. In January 2017, “Zohra” Orchestra was invited to Switzerland where on January 20th they performed in the closing session of the annual meeting of World Economic Forum in Davos; in collaboration with the local Swiss musicians - Orchestre du Collège de Genève. Hundreds including heads of states, dignitaries, business leaders, academia and world media attended the performance and it was live streamed on the Forum website.

The World Economic Forum, January 20th, 2017

The World Economic Forum, January 20th, 2017

The “Zohra” Orchestra together with the Orchestre du college de Geneve performed in Zürich where they were hosted by the Prestigious Tonhalle- Gesellschafy Zurich. In Geneva, they were welcomed by the Embassy and Permanent Mission of Afghanistan to the UN and the centre for Arts of the International School of Geneva. To honor them, on January 23th, the Embassy and Permanent Mission of Afghanistan organized a reception in the UN Headquarter where Ambassadors, Permanent Representatives, the UN, International Organizations and Afghans working in the International Organizations were invited. The “Zohra” Orchestra briefly performed in this reception using Afghan traditional instrument such as Rubab, Dotar and Tanboor and has been praised by the high-level diplomatic and UN community.

The reception hosted by the Embassy and Permanent Mission of Afghanistan in UNOG, January 23th, 2017.

The reception hosted by the Embassy and Permanent Mission of Afghanistan in UNOG, January 23th, 2017.

On January 24 and 25, 2017, the Afghan Women Orchestra “Zohra” performed public concerts in Centre des Arts in Geneva, in each around 400 audiences had attended. “Zohra” was also presented the 2017 Freemuse award at a concert in Geneva by Freemuse co-founder Marie Korpe. This Award is given to an individual or an organization that has worked for freedom of musical expression in a remarkable way.

Following Switzerland, “Zohra” headed towards Germany where they will perform together with the student of the Musikgymnasium Schloss Belvedere to promote intercultural dialogue and art.

Afghan Women Orchestra “Zohra” is part of the Afghan National Institute of Music (ANIM), Ministry of Education of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Dr Ahmad Sarmast is the Founder and Director of the ANIM whose vision and commitment lead the Institute to be a successful platform for education, development and peace.


This touring was made possible through the collaboration of several partners including the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, the Ministry of Education of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, the World Economic Forum, the International School of Geneva, the Service Cantonal de la Culture de Genève, the Orchestre du College de Genève, Mr Elyass Nory, Tonhalle-Gesellschaft Zurich, the University of Music Franz Liszt Weimar, Minz GmbH, and the Embassy and Permanent Representative of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the UN based in Geneva.