Her enemies call her a “dead woman walking”. But 31 year old Afghan women’s rights activist Malalai Joya says, “I don’t fear death; I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice.”
Joya is a breathtakingly brave woman who deserves our praise and, more importantly, our support. As a teenager, Joya set up a secret underground school for girls in Afghanistan, under the guidance of the Organisation for Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities. The charity named her their director, and she decided to establish a clinic for poor women just before the September 11 attacks in the U.S. When the Taliban fled her province, they were replaced by warlords. At that point, Joya says, “I realized women’s rights had been sold out completely.” When she started to set up her clinic, she was told by a local warlord she would not be permitted. She did it anyway, and then ran for Afghanistan’s Loya jirga (“meeting of the elders”), which was drawing up a new constitution.
She joined men she called “the worst abusers of human rights that our country had ever known” on the Loya jirga. When it was her turn to speak, she got up and called them anti-woman criminals who deserved prosecution in the national and international courts. The warlords screamed and hollered at her, and tried to physically attack her. Hours later, a fundamentalist mob arrived, threatening to rape her. Joya had to be put under armed guard. Religious fundamentalists have been threatening (and making attempts on) her life ever since.
Her speech was soon broadcast across Afghanistan and around the world. Many people in her country cheered and flooded her with support. In 2005 she ran for parliament, won, and continued to call out the killers, puppets and fascists in her midst. She was just 27 years old. The more she spoke, the angrier they got. On her second day, other MPs beat their fists on their desks and furiously shouted over her speech against warlords and drug-traffickers.
So the MPs voted to kick her out. And the President, Hamid Karzai, supported the ban. There is no difference between the Taliban and the fundamentalist warlords who have taken over Afghanistan, says Joya. Now she fights for justice outside the parliament. She got married in secret two years ago, to a man who fully supports her courageous mission to liberate the Afghan people – especially its women – from tyranny. Speaking of which, today comes news that Afghanistan has passed a law that permits Shia men to deny their wives food if they fail to obey sexual demands, among other things.
There is more information about Joya’s struggle at the Defense Committee for Malalai Joya. She has written a memoir called Raising My Voice.