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Meet Afghanistan's 'bravest woman'

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"I'm from a land of tragedy called Afghanistan," said Malalai Joya

BY RACHEL MENDLESON, The Daily News, November 9, 2007

Joya in Canada
Malalai Joya speaks at Dalhousie University yesterday. (Daily News/Ryan Taplin)

The so-called bravest woman in Afghanistan is a petite 29-year-old, with a soft voice and a polite, reserved demeanor. But when the recently ousted member of parliament speaks of the cost of championing human rights in her home country - and her resolve to continue doing so - her dark eyes command attention.

"I'm from a land of tragedy called Afghanistan," said Malalai Joya, who spoke at Dalhousie University yesterday as part of her Canadian tour to promote a shift in foreign policy - away from occupation, toward education.

Joya earned her title from the BBC for speaking out against the "warlords and druglords" she says control Afghanistan's parliament, to which she was elected in 2005. She was thrust into the global spotlight when she was ejected in May for allegedly slandering fellow MPs.

"My heart does not let me sit silent ... I would be ashamed to sit silent," said Joya, who had to make special arrangements to travel after her government denied her a visa.

Despite a recent poll conducted by the CBC that suggests the majority of Afghans support Canada's mission there, Joya says outside of major cities, the opposite is true.

"They (Canada) followed the policy of the U.S. government, which was a mockery of democracy, and a mockery of the war on terror," she said.

Joya, who has faced attempts on her life, says security has greatly decreased since 9/11, and since the election of President Hamid Karzai with the support of the Northern Alliance.

"Our people are saying they are like a photocopy of the Taliban ... Our people are like hostages in the hands of them," she said, citing numerous examples of violence toward women. "Media are never telling this shocking news to the world."

Joya pointed to a recent suicide bombing in the normally peaceful north as an example of the failure of foreign troops. She says she plans to meet with local MPs to discuss what she sees as the preferred strategy.

"I've been furious ever since she was ousted," said Halifax MP Alexa McDonough, who raised the issue in Ottawa in the spring, to little avail. "It shows how skin-deep, how superficial the real commitment to advancing the status of women in Afghanistan is."

Joya said it's not too late to shift the focus to supporting non-governmental organizations.

"Let's join our hands with the freedom-loving democratic people in Afghanistan," she says.