Afghan MP Malalai Joya continues to criticize her government

The audience was electrified, touched and moved by her emotional breakdown.

Embassy , Sep.20, 2006
By Brian Adeba

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

As soon as Malalai Joya walked into the hall, it was clear that she was in friendly territory. The more than 400 students, activists and curious spectators who packed the Marion Hall at the University of Ottawa last week needed no introduction to Afghanistan's most vocal female member of parliament.

After all, the previous week Ms. Joya had delivered a fiery speech at the NDP convention in Quebec City, urging delegates to back Jack Layton's call for Canada to pull troops out of Afghanistan. NDP youth leaders and anti-war groups had facilitated the talk in Ottawa.

The setting where she gave her half hour speech was as unconventional as the woman criticizing the warlords she says dominate her country's parliament.

On the blackboard, written in white chalk, the phrase "Science in Society" is the first thing noticed by everyone entering the hall. It's the title of a course taught by Professor Denis Rancourt, who last year raised the ire of university authorities for his alternative "social activism" style of teaching the science class.

"I want to tell you, you are in the right room," Mr. Rancourt told the confused audience members who thought they had just walked into a physics or chemistry lecture.

It only seemed fitting that the 28-year-old Ms. Joya would deliver her speech in a class as controversial as her crusade in Afghanistan.

When she took to the podium, the diminutive, dark-haired woman launched into a passionate speech about the politics of Afghanistan. In rudimentary but clearly understood English, Ms. Joya cited a litany of woes afflicting her country.

Afghanistan, she said, is a failed state heading towards disaster. Warlords dominate both the government and the parliament. Five years after coalition forces entered the country, the drug trade is increasing, and hope for achieving equality for women is still nowhere on the horizon. The country's mortality rate for mothers and children is among the world's highest. Life expectancy for ordinary Afghans is 45 years.

Because of the ill-treatment of women and the hardships they face in the country's male-dominated society, suicide rates amongst widows has shot up to 65 per cent. Many have been driven into prostitution to make ends meet. Women still face discrimination and arbitrary sexual violence, like the recent rape of a woman and her five-year-old daughter.

At this point in Ms. Joya's passionate speech, her voice broke down, eliciting a slight sob as she wiped away a tear.

The audience was electrified, touched and moved by her emotional breakdown. A thick silence, gripped the room.

After recovering, Ms. Joya blasted the "misogynist" Northern Alliance leaders, whom she said are no different from the Taliban. She blamed the West for putting criminals in charge in Afghanistan.

Taking a swipe at the United States, Ms. Joya, said the superpower is "still supporting fundamentalism" in the form of the many misogynist leaders (a term she frequently used throughout her speech) in her country's power structure. Comparing the situation in Afghanistan to Iraq, Ms. Joya said if Canada and other countries want to help, they must act independently and not in cohorts with the U.S.

Freedom of speech, despite what the Western media paints, is non-existent in Afghanistan.

"Those who speak the truth are threatened with violence," said Ms. Joya, who herself has escaped four assassination attempts.

Last year, Ms. Joya, who represents the western province of Farah, caused a stir when she made a speech alleging there are warlords in the Afghan parliament.

"One of them shouted 'prostitute, take her and rape her,'" she said.

She also said many drug lords hold important positions of power, and some are advisors to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"One governor asks people not to plant drugs, but he himself is a drug dealer. Is that possible [to stop the drug trade]?" she asked, adding that Mr. Karzai is "like a hostage in the hands of these criminals." She said she will continue speaking out against the corrupt and oppressive politicians in her country, and that she is also well aware of the dangers of doing so.

"One day they may kill me because of their power...but they will not silence the truth," she said to wild applause from the audience.

During a question and answer session, Ms. Joya called on Canada to pull out of Afghanistan, but offered no explanation as to how ensuing chaos could be reigned in if coalition forces leave.

"You can pull out, but do not forget the poor people," was all she could say.

Outside the hall after the lecture, youth activists sold socialist publications and NDP pins. One read "Jack Layton, leader of the effective opposition."