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Afghan MP fights for women's rights

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“Security is more important than food and water for our people,” Joya said

By Blaine van der Griend, The Toronto Observer , November 8, 2007

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

Most Canadians can only experience “hell on Earth” in their nightmares, but for Afghan MP Malalai Joya, it is an every day reality.

Joya was invited to share some of her experiences at Toronto’s Steelworkers Hall at 25 Cecil St. on Nov. 6. She was very outspoken about the horrors that she and other women in Afghanistan face on a day-to-day basis.

Joya says that safety is her main concern and in her view, when the U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan, it did not solve any problems; it escalated them.

“Security is more important than food and water for our people,” Joya said. “Foreign invasion is not the solution for the developing situation in Afghanistan. Peace can be achieved through the force of our own people, even if it takes a long time.”

Joya used several examples of how poorly Afghan women are treated. One woman hung herself at age 16 after being forced to marry a 60-year-old man. Another woman was kidnapped by what Joya calls “warlords” and raped in exchange for a dog.

“The life expectancy for an Afghan woman today is 45 years,” Joya said.

Joya says that liberation is the biggest need for people in Afghanistan and it is something that women in particular, are not getting.

“The situation for Afghan women is getting worse and worse every day,” Joya said. “It’s like hell today.”

Warlords and druglords dominate Afghan government

Joya says that it is because of the warlord and druglord dominated government that Afghan women are not receiving the support and security they need.

“The government does not let Afghan people, especially women, have ordinary lives or even human lives,” Joya said. “Unfortunately, most of the money that should have been used for schools and hospitals went into the pockets of the corrupt governments that are in power.”

Joya had several supporters at Steelworkers Hall that day. There were many outspoken members of the Afghan community as well, including fellow panelist Ausma Malik, vice president of equity for the University of Toronto students’ union.

Malik was thrilled to have Joya on hand, and as an Afghan woman herself, Malik was pleased to have someone stand up for women’s rights in Afghanistan.

“Malalai Joya is usually considered an ordinary person, but ultimately, it’s ordinary people who do extraordinary things,” Malik said. “For the people of her community who put their belief in her message, Malalai has defended their rights.”

Malik is certainly appreciative of everything that Joya has done for the Afghan community. She thinks it’s about time for a woman to stand up to the corrupt Afghan government and stare adversity in the face.

“She (Joya) puts her life on the line in her uncompromising commitment to defend the needs of the people of Afghanistan,” Malik said. “In places where it would have been easier to simply retreat and safer to keep quiet, this is not a woman who can be kept quiet.”

Malik was referring to Joya’s courage in defending women’s rights. Joya has received several death threats and can only go out in public in Afghanistan wearing a burqua, which is a traditional Islamic garb, covering all but the eyes.

Peggy Nash, MP for Parkdale-High Park was very supportive of Joya as well. She says Canada’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan has only escalated the problems in Afghanistan.

Confrontational politics

“It’s very stressing to hear other parliamentarians say that this mission was about defending women’s rights,” Nash said. “I didn’t believe that then and I don’t believe it now.”

Nash could not emphasize enough the importance of ending the war in Afghanistan. She says the longer the war drags out, the more casualties there will be and it really does not solve anything.

“A combat mission in Afghanistan is not going to bring peace in terms of improving the lives of people in Afghanistan,” Nash said. “Malalai is evidence of the fact that the democratic fight for women’s rights are not being extended through the bombing of Afghanistan.”

Nash believes that Afghan women do not want to be involved in politics because of confrontational reasons.

“When you get women elected of the calibre of Malalai Joya, they are at a disadvantage, because they do not have the right to free speech,” Nash said. “She (Joya) is a woman of courage.”

Joya says that Afghanistan does need international support but she agrees with Nash that Canadian troops have no business involving themselves in this war.

“We don’t want occupation; we want liberation,” Joya said. “If they (Canadians) want to prove themselves as honest and true friends to Afghanistan, they must act independently.”

Joya says that a possible solution to female oppression in Afghanistan is if there was a woman in charge.

“I hope that one day we will have a woman president in our country,” she said.

Nov. 7 was the national day of action in Canada, as Canadians showed their support to reinstate Joya to parliament.