Denounced, expelled

The removal of the outspoken feminist Malalai Joya betrays Karzai government's hollow claims about women's advancement

The News International, June 3, 2007
By Zia-ur-Rehman

The most outspoken female MP of Afghanistan, Malalai Joya has been expelled from the parliament for speaking the truth and for her straightforwardness. The removal of this outspoken feminist demonstrates the hollowness of the claims of women's advancement under the occupation by Karzai's government. Wolisi Jirga (National Assembly) voted to suspend Malalai Joya, one outspoken woman among the 68 women legislators, for three years from the legislature, citing that she had broken Article 70 of the Parliament, which had banned Wolesi Jirga members from openly criticising each other. Joya had regarded the Wolesi Jirga as 'worse than a zoo' in a recent television interview, and later called other members of parliament "criminals" and "drug smugglers". She was a relentless critic of the warlords and assorted war criminals in the Karzai's government.

Malalai Joya in Press Conference in Kabul on May 21
BBC has called Joya "the most famous woman in Afghanistan."
(AP photo)

This was not the first time that the 28-year-old Joya, a passionate advocate and campaigner of women's rights, has angered male MPs with her criticism. Some have thrown water bottles at her while she spoke in debates and others have threatened her with rape and murder, denounced as a 'prostitute', all of this taking place in parliament, no less. She has also escaped assassination attempts and has to regularly change her address after receiving death threats from the warlords and Taliban groups both.

Malalai Joya, born on April 25, 1979, is a controversial and renowned Afghani woman politician and human rights activist. She was only four when her family fled the country, in 1982, to the refugee camps of Pakistan and Iran, joining hundreds of thousands who had escaped the Soviet invasion three years before. She received her education in Pakistan and began teaching literacy courses to other women at age 19. Unable to keep away from her homeland even at the height of the Taliban's tyranny, Joya returned to Afghanistan in 1999 and set up a secret school and health clinic for women in the western city of Heart, and was soon a vocal enemy of the Taliban. For two years she gave lessons at great personal risk, with the Taliban banning education or work for women and forcing them under the all-enveloping burqa.

Joya also runs an NGO, Organisation of Promoting Afghan Women's Capabilities (OPAWC), in the Western Afghanistan. Joya achieved international attention in December 2003 when, as an elected delegate to the Loya Jirga (Grand Council) convened to ratify the Afghan Constitution, she spoke out publicly against what she termed the domination of warlords. In response, Sibghatullah Mujadidi, chief of the Loya Jirga, called her 'infidel' and 'communist'. Since then she has survived four assassination attempts, and travels in Afghanistan under a burqa and with armed guards.

Joya was elected to the 249-seat National Assembly or Wolesi Jirga in September 2005, as a representative of Farah Province, winning the second highest number of votes in the province. In her interview to press, she said, "When those people put their trust in me and elected me as their representative, I decided to bring their suffering to the world's attention -- so that the world would know that even though the men and women of Afghanistan have had to live in ignorance and poverty for many years, they don't trust the Taliban or Mujahideen."

Although Joya receives numerous death threats and her home has been bombed, she has chosen to continue her stance against the inclusion of former mujahideen in the current Afghan government. In 2004, she and a delegation of 50 tribal elders persuaded President Karzai to dismiss a provincial governor who was a former Taliban commander.

"They should be taken to national and international court," Joya stated publicly at the 2003 meeting, her bravery and courage rare in a country emerging from the harsh and callous Taliban rule, under which women were barred from public life.

BBC has called Joya "the most famous woman in Afghanistan." In a January 27, 2007 interview with BBC News, Joya commented on her personal political mission amid continuous death threats, saying: "They will kill me but they will not kill my voice, because it will be the voice of all Afghan women. You can cut the flower, but you cannot stop the coming of spring."

Malalai Joya appeared at the Federal Convention of Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP) in Quebec City on September 10, 2006, supporting party leader Jack Layton and the NDP's criticism of the NATO-led mission in southern Afghanistan. She said, "No nation can donate liberation to another nation."

In January 2004, the Cultural Union of Afghans in Europe awarded her the 'Malalai of Maiwand' award for her brave speech in the Loya Jirga. In December 2004, the Valle d'Aosta province of Italy awarded her the International Women of the Year 2004 Award. On March 15, 2006, Tom Bates, Mayor of Berkeley, presented a certificate of honour to her for "her continued work on behalf of human rights". On March 2006, she got the 'Gwangju Award for Human Rights 2006' from May 18 Foundation in South Korea. In Aug 2006, the Women's Peacepower Foundation gave Joya the 'Woman of Peace Award 2006'. She was also among the '1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005'. Malalai was in Sydney, Australia, on March 8, 2007, as a guest of UNIFEM, speaking about women's rights in Afghanistan in honour of International Women's Day. The World Economic Forum selects Joya among 250 Young Global Leaders for 2007.

In April this year, Joya was in Los Angeles. She spoke to the press thus: "The US government removed the ultra-reactionary and brutal regime of Taliban, but instead of relying on Afghan people, pushed us from the frying pan into the fire and selected its friends from among the most dirty and infamous criminals of the 'Northern Alliance', which is made up of the sworn enemies of democracy and human rights, and are as dark-minded, evil, and cruel as the Taliban... The Western media talks about democracy and the liberation of Afghanistan, but the US and its allies are engaged in the warlordisation, criminalisation and drug-lordisation of our wounded land."

In 2006, The Washington Post wrote of Joya, "Her truth is that warlords should not be permitted to hide behind 'the mask of democracy to hold on to their chairs' and their pernicious pursuits at the expense of poor, 'barefoot' Afghans who remain voiceless and disillusioned. The warlords are corrupt 'war criminals' who should be tried, and incorrigible 'drug dealers' who brought the country to its knees, she said."

On September 13, she addressed a gathering in McGill University in Montreal as well as the University of Ottawa, where she expressed her disappointment with American involvement in her home country, stating that "Countries like the US have their own strategic policies in Afghanistan... As long as they support the Northern Alliance with the mask of democracy, there will never be improvement in Afghanistan."

One can see why administrators of the Karzai government and its NATO patrons have failed to champion Joya's case. Brad Adams, Director Asia at Human Rights Watch (HRW) wrote in his statement: "Malalai Joya is a staunch defender of human rights and a powerful voice for Afghan women, and she shouldn't have been suspended from parliament".

Karzai regime did this act on the pressure of tribal chiefs, warlord as well as America. Expulsion of Joya illustrates the failures of the claims of being so-called campaigner of women rights by the Karzai's regime.

The writer has academic background in Women Studies and works with Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) Islamabad. E-mail: zia_red@hotmail.com