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Radical Whispers


Radical Whispers is a collaborative project between Maslaha and Poet in The City to provide a UK platform for Afghan women's poetry.

Bringing together international partners, the project showcases how poetry is used by women in Afghanistan as a tool to influence change, and explores how we can harness the power of this message to explore identity and freedom of speech in the UK and globally. 

Female poets in Afghanistan draw on a long tradition of women’s spoken word poetry in the region using an ancient form 
‘landai’, a satirical couplet, as a means of female resistance and solidarity in the face of limited freedom of expression. Read more about the history of the landai here.

With the support of a grant from the Arts Council we embarked on a year of research and development in 2016. We will be looking for funding to continue this work and begin a multi-disciplinary programme of events in the UK.

'When sisters sit together, they always praise their brothers. When brothers sit together, they sell their sisters to others.'

'My darling you are just like America, you are guilty, I apologise.’ 

The Need 

We decided to embark on this project for a range of reasons including:

  • To challenge stereotypes of Afghan women as submissive and in need of liberation – and provide a platform for them, and other frequently to speak on their own terms.

  • Muslim women in the UK face complex discrimination on the basis of both faith and gender; as well as facing strong social inequalities. Providing a platform for the voices of Muslim women of all ages to be heard on their own terms, will challenge commonly held negative stereotypes of Muslim women that impact aspirations of Muslim girls and can provide barriers to access to employment and education.

  • To encourage action and develop critical thinking skills and spaces for dissent through poetry.

  • To highlight and encourage further engagement with poetry as a means of communication and of having a voice. 

  • Being able to discuss issues such as identity, belonging, intergenerational conflict, and prejudice, will support young people to develop a more nuanced understanding, empathy and critical reflection skills.

  • To increase cultural competency in teaching and curriculum and integrate learning styles and methods that resonate with young people of all backgrounds.

  • To showcase new poetry to global audiences.

What We Did 

  • In 2015/2016 we carried out a year of research and development where we established a range of artistic, delivery, marketing and funding partners.

  • We rounded off this year with an event at the historic poetry site of St Pancras International on National Poetry Day where we celebrated the role of landais and poetry, in narrating personal journeys across time and space. Throughout the day storytellers Alia Alzougbi and Deanna Rodger used exclusively printed Landai train tickets to discuss reflections on journeys with commuters. The day was rounded of with a showcase of poets including Bridget Minamore, Sabrina Mahfouz, Anthony Anaxagorou and Benin City. You can read more about the event here.

  • Our plan for the initiative is multi-layered and will include:

    • Public Events: Poet in the City and Maslaha will curate a number of public events celebrating work produced through the project and exploring issues around identity, self-expression and belonging through the lens of landai poetry and the art of translation.

    • Education programme -  Maslaha will deliver a series of immersive education workshops with young people in schools and older women in community groups across four London boroughs.

    • Commissioning/Publishing - we will be collaborating with partners including Kabul based literary group, Mirman Baheer, to identify and publish new poetry from women in Afghanistan. UK poets will also be commissioned to write poetry on the subject and create engagement at a local level. This work will be showcased in an online exhibition and a poetry publication.

    • Podcasts - given the aural tradition of women’s poetry groups in Afghanistan we are keen to recognize this in the work we do and would like to use podcasts as a way for participants to take part in the project, and to reach new audiences.

    • Campaign: a large-scale campaign through which project partners will create a ‘global moment’ celebrating voice and humanity through the landai form. This will help to change how issues around gender, race and religion are debated in wider society and media outlets. 


​"Tears are streaming down my face, I cannot forget Kabul's snow-topped mountains"


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