Malalai Joya, 31, is an Afghan feminist who was elected to that nation’s national assembly in 2005.

By Juleyka Lantigua-Williams, The Progressive, March 12, 2010

As we observe Women’s History Month in March, let’s look beyond our borders to honor three remarkable women who are making history in their home countries.

First is Michelle Bachelet, 59, the outgoing president of Chile. She was the first woman to ascend to her nation’s highest office. A pediatrician by training, Bachelet has enacted sound economic policies that steered Chile through the global financial crisis, while at the same time attending to the needs of her citizenry. She instituted a minimum pension guarantee for the very poor and for low-income homemakers. She legalized alimony payments to divorced women and tripled the number of free early child care centers for low-income families. And when the enormous earthquake hit Chile on Feb. 27, she responded with calm, decisive leadership.

Next is Aung San Suu Kyi, 64, a Burmese opposition politician. Though she was democratically elected prime minister in 1990, she has never been allowed to serve the office, having been placed under house arrest in 1989 by the oppressive military junta that rules Burma. Even while under detention for 14 of the last 20 years, she has remained the most important political figure in her country, and has gained international acclaim for her nonviolent opposition to the corrupt government that has held her country captive for decades. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and has since become one of the most ardent international symbols of freedom and peaceful opposition to political repression and corruption.

In her decades-long plea to restore democracy to her country, Suu Kyi has endured unimaginable personal sacrifices. She was unable to visit her husband when he was battling cancer. And the government would not allow him to visit her. He died abroad after years of being separated from his wife. She has also not seen her children, who live abroad, in decades. But she has endured, and continues to stand as the burning flame of liberty for millions of Burmese hopeful that their country will one day be freed from its stifling rulers.

Malalai Joya

Lastly, Malalai Joya, 31, is an Afghan feminist who was elected to that nation’s national assembly in 2005. She was suspended from office in 2007 for publicly decrying the presence of former warlords and war criminals in the assembly. During a brave speech on the floor of the legislature, she questioned how her country could move forward when some of those charged with governing it are the very same people who conspired for decades to maintain Taliban rule — oppressing women and denying basic liberties to an entire people. Other representatives booed her, threw objects at her and rushed at her from their seats.

Joya has survived four assassination attempts. Now she travels in Afghanistan with armed guards to protect her. But she is unbowed: “Never again will I whisper in the shadows of intimidation. I am but a symbol of my people’s struggle and a servant to their cause. And if I were to be killed for what I believe in, then let my blood be the beacon for emancipation and my words a revolutionary paradigm for generations to come.”

So let us salute these three women, who embody the courage and leadership of women around the world.

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams is a writer whose work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .