Courageous young Afghan politician speaks out in Canada

NUPGE among sponsors of Canadian tour by Malalai Joya to raise awareness of women's rights and the truth about Afghan warlords

National Union of Public and General Employees - Nepean, Sep.12, 2006

Joya in NDP Convention
Joya's speech in the NDP convention was responded by the audience warmly.

Ottawa (12 September 2006) - The youngest member of Afghanistan's parliament is in the midst of a Canadian tour to raise awareness about women's rights and to expose criminal legislators within her country.

Malalai Joya, who addressed the NDP federal convention in Quebec City, will be giving lectures at McGill University and the University of Ottawa. The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is a sponsor of her speaking tour.

Joya's candor and courage in standing up to warlords that now hold some of the highest positions of power in Afghanistan has earned her the title of "the most famous woman in Afghanistan," according to the BBC.

In December 2003 she was among 502 delegates who gathered in Kabul to participate in the drafting of a new Afghan constitution. During that landmark event, the then 25-year-old woman electrified the world by speaking out against the influence wielded by warlords (Mujahideen) in the governing of Afghanistan.

She asked delegates why criminals were playing a role in mapping the future of the country instead of facing trial for war crimes before an international court. After the assembly, she returned to her home province to a hero's welcome.

At that point she knew there was no turning back.

Elected at age 27

In September 2005, at age 27, Joya was elected to Afghanistan's new parliament, a body that is now led by a government composed largely of former warlords and commanders. During the first parliamentary session she delivered a stinging rebuke.

"Every day in parliament I look into the eyes of warlords and commanders who have ordered the killings of hundreds or thousands of Afghans, and I wonder how they can be allowed to be the people's representatives," she says.

Joya has also been a fearless voice for women's rights in Afghanistan. She ran an underground school for women during the Taliban's rule and she is the head of the Organization of Promoting Afghan Women's Capabilities.

Despite victories, such as winning the right of young Afghan girls to attend school, Joya says the lives of Afghan women have not changed much during the move to democracy under the leadership of the Karzai government.

Change affects only 1% of women

"When the entire nation is living under the shadow of the warlords, how can its women enjoy very basic freedoms?" she asks.

"Contrary to the propaganda in certain Western media, Afghan women are not 'liberated' at all today," she argues.

"The situation has changed for only 1% of Afghan women; 99% still live under oppression, lawlessness and poor health conditions," she says.

While Joya's courage has endeared her to millions of ordinary Afghans, it has made her a target of Afghan power brokers. Today she often receives death threats after speaking in parliament. She has survived four assassination attempts and frequently travels with armed guards.

"I speak the words that many Afghans are afraid to say in public," Joya says. "Sure, I get fearful sometimes, but I say to myself, 'Joya, move beyond your fears and remember that your people have voted you in office to speak on their behalf.' They may eventually kill me; but in the meantime they will not silence my voice and they will never be bale to hide the truth."

You can read more about Joya's life by visiting her website: www.malalaijoya.com. She will speak Sept. 13 at 7 p.m., at the Marion Hall building, 140 Louis Pasteur Street, on the University of Ottawa campus. NUPGE

Joya in NDP Convention
Jack Layton, Stephen Lewis and Malalai Joya in the NDP convention.