Young member of Afghan Parliament speaks out against warlord colleagues

“I speak the words that many Afghans are afraid to say in public”

San Francisco Chronicle, March 28, 2006

Halima Kazem, Special to The Chronicle

Lacing her trembling fingers around a cup of green tea, Malalai Joya lowers her voice and explains, “Every day as I am leaving the Parliament building in Kabul, I wonder if someone is waiting outside to kill me.”

Joya has every reason to be fearful. The 27-year-old Afghan parliamentarian from the conservative province of Farah has received more than a hundred death threats. Sitting in a brightly lit Fremont coffee shop in a simple black suit with a red paisley scarf around her neck, she is thousands of miles from her home but unable to cease her cautious whispering.

“Every day 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.”

Joya is one of 68 women in Afghanistan’s recently elected bicameral Parliament. She has endeared herself to millions of Afghans because of her candor — a trait that has earned her the title “the most famous woman in Afghanistan;” it also has made her a target of Afghan power brokers.

“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.’ ”

As a middle child in a family of eight siblings, Joya is used to working to be heard. “When I was a small girl, I used to sneak into the men’s meetings and assemblies that my father would take part in, and everyone would try to kick me out,” remembers Joya, whose father, a former medical student, lost his leg while fighting the Soviets in the ’80s. “My father would see me sneak back in, and he would just shake his head and smile. He never differentiated between me and my brothers. That is a rare trait for an Afghan man.”

At age 14 she started working as a literacy teacher and food distributor inside the Pakistani refugee camp where her family lived. In 1998, Joya’s family moved back to Farah and she continued her humanitarian work there and in the neighboring province of Herat.

“During the Taliban, I would take medical supplies to families and secretly organize literacy courses for school-age girls,” she says.

So it didn’t come as a surprise when, in late 2003, village elders elected Joya as one of only two women to represent the province in the country’s first constitutional assembly in more than 30 years. “I was honored to be recognized, even by the men, as someone who deeply cared about bringing the faraway voices of Farah province to the capital, Kabul. After all, this is what democracy was about.”

However, in Kabul the eager delegate was introduced to a different kind of democracy building — one with self-interested international players, rampant corruption and an Afghan government made up of a hodgepodge of former warlords and commanders. Joya found herself facing the post-Taliban government’s central quagmire: how to exclude commanders who successfully fought off the Soviet Army but later turned on one another, ravaging the capital city, displacing millions and killing thousands of innocent people.

“I couldn’t take watching these warlords in the new government of Afghanistan, so on the first day of the assembly I stood up and asked the constitutional commission why these criminals were a part of the future of the country and not in an international court, being tried for war crimes.”

After a moment of shocked silence, she says the assembly blew up in desperate shouts of “Allah Akbar” (God is great) and called Joya an infidel. The assembly commissioner, a former mujahedeen himself, immediately demanded that Joya apologize for her accusations. When she refused, the flabbergasted commissioner asked the delegates to accept the apologies of other delegates on Joya’s behalf.

“I knew my words were strong, but I didn’t think they’d have such an impact. As I was speaking, all I could think about were the weeping mothers who had lost their sons and husbands in the war and all the hungry Afghan children waiting to die in the Pakistani refugee camps,” Joya says.

After the constitutional assembly, she returned to Farah province to a hero’s welcome. “Some people were sending death threats to my door, while others, especially women, would quietly approach me and from under their burqas whisper, ‘I support you, Malalai, you are my voice.’ ”

At that point there was no turning back. A year after her emphatic outburst at the constitutional assembly, she prepared to run for the lower house in Afghanistan’s parliamentary election. Despite countless attempts on her life and several periods of going into hiding, Joya prevailed in December 2005 as a winner from her native Farah province.

But she is still not satisfied. Despite the election of 67 other women to Parliament and the thousands of girls back in school, Joya insists that the lives of Afghan women haven’t changed much with the formation of the Karzai government.

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

In a recent speech to the Afghan diaspora community in Fremont, Joya told the audience not to be fooled by the hype they hear about Afghanistan’s transition to a democracy.

“Today, 70 percent of our Parliament are warlords, and the Taliban also have leaders there,” says Joya. “Even with all of the U.S. troops in the country, this is the state of our Parliament.”

Calling it a masked democracy, Joya says President Hamid Karzai, U.S. leaders and most of the international agencies in Afghanistan are turning a blind eye to the drug dealers serving terms inside the government.

“People who look the other way when they see these war criminals are smaller criminals themselves,” Joya says.

Some in the audience in Fremont said they thought that Joya is not acting on her own but is pushing someone else’s political agenda. Others argued that her youth and lack of experience are hurting her efforts to bring change.

Joya says she understands that she hasn’t done everything the right way.

“Some of my elders tell me to be more diplomatic, but I don’t have time for diplomacy. I am from Afghanistan’s war generation. We’ve lost enough time.”

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Afghan politician contrasts with student

“While Hashemi toured the US defending the public murder of unchaste women, Joya risked her life to teach girls.”

Yale Daily News , March 27, 2006 By James Kirchick, a senior in Pierson College

Malalai Joya, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament, delivers speech at Ventura College. “I only want to be a voice (for) my suffering people who were always silenced,” she says.

Rahmatullah Hashemi and Malalai Joya seemingly have much in common. Both are 27, come from the same region of Afghanistan and are interested in international relations. But the similarities between Hashemi, silver-tongued former spokesman for the Taliban, and Joya, one of the new Afghani Parliament’s youngest members, end there. Not long ago, while Hashemi toured the United States defending the public murder of unchaste women, Joya risked her life to teach girls — which at the time was a capital crime.

Visiting last week, Joya gave Yale a piece of her mind. Hashemi’s presence here is, to her, “disgusting” and an “unforgivable insult.” When I asked whether she believes herself to be more deserving of a place here than a former (and current) propagandist for the Taliban, she replied, without a trace of bitterness, “I am not jealous.” She has a country to rebuild and is working hard to do so. While she has survived several assassination attempts in the past four years and must travel with armed guards in Afghanistan, Hashemi noshes on the kosher offerings at the Slifka Center and defended the Taliban to the Times of London in an article three weeks ago. Joya does not have time for an American college education. “My people need me,” she says.

“Hashemi at first should face the court,” she told me, demanding he be brought to his native country and answer for his role in advancing the Taliban’s foreign policy goals so many years. Surprisingly for a man who loved the press so much five years ago — speaking before crowds at universities across the country, meeting with editorial boards of influential newspapers, appearing in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” — Hashemi has laid low since his tell-all profile was printed in the New York Times Magazine last month. But in the Times of London interview, Hashemi proved himself to be a morally glib apologist for religious authoritarians.

Asked about public executions in football stadiums, Hashemi said, “That was all vice and virtue stuff. There were also executions happening in Texas.” Irate that a Yale-issued textbook would relate his former employer to the terrorist group it sponsored and hosted in the run-up to Sept. 11, Hashemi complained, “They would say the Taliban were the same as al-Qaida.”

“This kind of germ does not belong in the U.S.,” Joya told me, and after having heard the few scraps of equivocation Hashemi has shared in the month since his front-page expose, I am inclined to agree. Had Joya been caught for her underground activities during the Taliban era, she probably would have been publicly executed and Hashemi would have defended her public murder. Correction: might still defend her public murder.

Former Yale Dean of Admissions Richard Shaw told the Times Magazine Hashemi “could educate us about the world.” Whether one believes Hashemi should be at Yale or not, his presence has been instructive in one way: It has caused a reckoning at Yale over the issue of cultural relativism.

Outrage over religious fascism ought to be the province of American liberals. But in Hashemi’s case it has been almost entirely trumpeted by Fox News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and right-wing bloggers. A friend of mine recently remarked that part of his and his peers’ nonchalance (and in some cases, support for) Hashemi has to do with the fact that the right has seized upon the issue. Our politics have become so polarized that many are willing to take positions based on the inverse of their opponents’. This abandonment of classical liberal values at the expense of political gamesmanship has consequences that reach far beyond Yale; it hurts our national discourse.

In a bold declaration that she will, with any hope, one day come to regret, Della Sentilles ’06 wrote on her feminist Weblog, “Broad Recognition,” “As a white American feminist, I do not feel comfortable making statements or judgments about other cultures, especially statements that suggest one culture is more sexist and repressive than another.” While I cringe at the implications of this, I applaud its honesty. It lays bare a method of thinking that is quite pervasive on our campus, and that many, if not most, students claim allegiance to. It is at once racist — for holding non-Westerners to a lower standard of behavior — and dangerous in its cold abandonment of those who suffer under totalitarian and theocratic regimes. “They shamelessly defer to oppressive religious and cultural norms in the name of respecting diversity, betraying the victims of oppression in the process,” British gay-rights activist and self-described “radical, left-wing Green” Peter Tatchell wrote of his comrades on the left who refused to condemn barbaric practices in Muslim societies. Joya has no problem saying Taliban Afghanistan was “more sexist and repressive than” the U.S. Why can’t Sentilles?

As with any spin doctor, it is difficult to discern what Hashemi thinks, so crafty is he with language. He is quite adept at getting what he wants from Westerners with guilt complexes, be they adventurous CBS cameramen, Ivy League admissions officers or self-professed “feminists.” Come this summer, if Yale refuses to accept Hashemi as a degree student, few of us will be sorry to see him go.

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If Yale’s president wants to educate a deserving Afghan, I’ve got just the woman for him

She is strongly critical of U.S. support for her country’s new government

Opinion Journal, March 27, 2006

from The Wall Street Journal editorial page, by John H. Fund

NEW HAVEN, Conn.–The BBC calls Malalai Joya the most famous woman in Afghanistan. On Thursday the 27-year-old women’s rights activist, a member of the Afghan Parliament, mounted a stage at Yale and turned her fire on the university’s decision to admit a former Taliban official as a special student.

“All should raise their voice against such criminals,” she told a crowd of 200. “It is an unforgivable insult to the Afghan people that he is here. He should face a court of law rather than be at one of your finest universities.” The Yale Daily News reported that the large attendance at her speech showed that the former Taliban official “continues to be widely controversial.” Last night the Yale College Council, the undergraduate student government, began debating a resolution urging the university’s administration not to admit Mr. Hashemi as a regular sophomore in the fall.

Ms. Joya has standing to speak for Afghan women. She ran an underground school for women during the Taliban’s rule and today receives frequent death threats after giving speeches in Parliament against “fanatical warlords.” She is strongly critical of U.S. support for her country’s new government, which she claims is increasingly influenced by warlords, as evidenced by the now-abandoned attempt to try an Afghan named Abdul Rahman for the capital crime of converting to Christianity. “Why has $12 billion in foreign aid not made it to my suffering people?” she asked me during an interview. “Fraud and waste have largely diverted your aid to others.”

But it was her criticism of Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, the 27-year-old Taliban ambassador-at-large turned Yale student, that stuck in the minds of some audience members at a reception afterwards. “Before I was like, who cares if the guy was Taliban or not?” Yigit Dula, a sophomore from Turkey, told the Yale Daily News. “But it means a lot more to [Afghans] to have someone like Hashemi educated at Yale.” Aisha Amir, a physician who fled war-torn Afghanistan, told me she sympathized with the difficult choices people had to make to survive under the Taliban, but added that “there are so many more deserving Afghan students who belong in Hashemi’s place.”

Intrigued, I later called her up to get her full story. She left a refugee camp in Pakistan with her mother, Maroofa, and her four younger siblings in 2002. Like Mr. Hashemi she has only a high school equivalency degree, because schooling in the refugee camp was limited. Her mother can’t work and knows only basic English, so she and her sister Rona are the only means of support for the family beyond food stamps and $600 a month in housing assistance from the state.

At the time, no one knew what else the Taliban were doing in Bamiyan beyond blowing up Buddhas. Nearby, the Afghan video journalists found the remnants of the Hazara tribe. One survivor told them the Taliban had “tried to exterminate” the entire tribe, starting with the men.

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Joya talks on Afghanistan, Hashemi

Lecture focuses on women’s rights in Afghanistan, U.S. policy since fall of the Taliban

Yale Daily News , March 24, 2006

BY CARI TUNA, Staff Reporter

Malalai Joya speaking in the Ventura College in the USA

Malalai Joya, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament, delivers speech at Ventura College. “I only want to be a voice (for) my suffering people who were always silenced,” she says.

Female Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya criticized current U.S. policy in Afghanistan, as well as the presence of former Taliban spokesman and foreign ministry official Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi as a special non-degree student at Yale, both during and after her speech, “Women’s Rights, Warlords, and the U.S. Occupation of Afghanistan” on Thursday night.

The lecture, which was co-sponsored by the Yale Center for International and Area Studies and the Afghan Women’s Mission, drew a full crowd in Luce Hall Auditorium and was preceded by a documentary film addressing women’s rights in Afghanistan. Students at the event said Joya’s speech and ongoing campus debate over Hashemi’s enrollment indicate that his presence at Yale continues to be widely controversial, and the Yale College Council is considering a resolution urging that he not be allowed to enroll as a regular student.

Joya said there has been no fundamental change in democratization and women’s rights in Afghanistan since the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. She criticized the U.S. government for pursuing its own strategic interests in the region while supporting fundamentalist warlords who make Afghanistan “a hell for its people.”

“Afghanistan’s issue is not an easy issue,” she said. “I only want to be a voice for my suffering people who are always silenced.”

After her lecture, Joya delivered a statement about Hashemi’s enrollment. She said Hashemi was one of the Taliban’s top propagandists and called his status as a student at Yale “disgusting” and an “unforgivable insult.”

“Before he was a Talib, and now he is a student,” Joya said, holding up two pictures of Hashemi. “Is it democracy?”

The YCC is currently considering drafting a resolution to petition the University’s administration to deny Hashemi admission as a full-time student, YCC President Steven Syverud ’06 said Thursday. The idea was introduced to the council by former YCC representative Austin Broussard ’06, and current representatives are discussing the controversy via e-mail, YCC Vice President Marissa Brittenham ’07 said.

“We’ve opened the dialogue with the YCC representatives … to try and figure out where we stand on this issue,” she said.

After Joya’s lecture, students expressed a range of opinions about her statements.

Mina Alaghband ’08 said she was surprised that none of the questions that audience members asked Joya concerned Hashemi. She said that while Joya raised some important issues, she painted a too-bleak picture of contemporary Afghanistan.

“I think the perception we all have … is that while there are still problems there, they are taking steps toward democratization and religious rights,” Alaghband said.

Hyder Akbar ’08, a native of Afghanistan, said he was encouraged to hear a female politician from his home country speaking at Yale, and he was impressed by her candor, despite numerous attempts that have been made on her life.

“For me it is a source of pride to see somebody like her representing Afghanistan,” he said.

But Akbar also said he disagreed with Joya’s assertion that there has been no political or social progress made in the country since the fall of the Taliban.

Yigit Dula ’08 said he thinks the controversy surrounding Hashemi has not attracted enough attention on campus. He said Joya’s speech offered a valuable perspective on both the U.S.-backed regime currently in power in Afghanistan and the Hashemi issue.

“It was definitely biased and very emotional, but she made some good points,” he said. “Before I was like, who cares if the guy was Taliban or not? But it means a lot more to [Afghans] to have someone like Hashemi educated at Yale.”

Hashemi could not be reached for comment Thursday.

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Afghan legislator gives talk to 400 at Ventura College

Parliament member says her nation hasn’t been helped by U.S. invasion

Ventura County Star, March 21, 2006

By Charles Levin

Malalai Joya speaking in the Ventura College in the USA

Chuck Kirman/Star staff

Malalai Joya, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament, delivers speech at Ventura College on Monday. “I only want to be a voice (for) my suffering people who were always silenced,” she says.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, American forces drove the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban regime from power in Afghanistan, allowing the war-ravaged country to establish a democratic government.

At least that’s the story portrayed in American media, Malalai Joya, a member of the Afghan Parliament, said Monday to nearly 400 students and teachers at Ventura College.

Afghanistan today, however, is a much different place, she said.

Al-Qaida and Taliban forces still exercise power, while so-called “Northern Alliance” warlords control Parliament with tacit support from the U.S. government. Corruption is rampant, she said. And Islamic fundamentalists still commit atrocities against women.

Despite all the talk of “democratic reform and women’s activism … the reality is not what you might be aware of through the media,” said Joya, 27, who heads the Organization of Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities, and administers a health clinic in Farah, where she lives.

White House officials did not return a phone call for comment on Monday.

Joya stopped in Ventura as part of a nationwide, multi-city tour that began earlier this month.

Afghanistan has received $12 billion in aid but little of it reaches its most needy citizens, Joya said. Healthcare is so poor that roughly 700 children and 50 to 70 women die every day for lack of services, Joya said.

Northern Alliance warlords rape women as young as 11 and as old as 60. Husbands physically abuse wives because they don’t fear arrest or prosecution, she added.

“I come from a land where our people simply see (the) U.S. bringing a mock democracy,” Joya said, adding that U.S. officials should apologize to Afghanistan’s people for “fueling and supporting the most brutal and ignorant fundamentalists.”

A minority of educated Afghan residents yearn for true democracy but don’t speak out for fear of retaliation, Joya said in an interview after her speech. She’s touring the U.S. to expose the problems and encourage a dialogue with “educated,” “freedom-loving” people of Afghanistan.

The daughter of a former medical student, Joya was 4 in 1982 when her family fled Afghanistan during the war with the Soviet Union (which invaded and occupied the country from 1979 to 1989). They first lived in Iran and then Pakistan, where she finished her education at 19 and began teaching literacy courses to other women.

Joya returned to Afghanistan in 1998 when the Soviets left, established an orphanage and health clinic, and openly criticized the Taliban.

In Parliament, Joya has criticized warlords and survived assassination attempts, causing her to now travel with bodyguards.

“I won the elections with nothing in my hands except my people’s trust and love,” Joya said. “I only want to be a voice (for) my suffering people who were always silenced.”

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Emergency Appeal to Help Fund Malalai Joya’s Security

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT
Voice: 626-676-7884
E-mail: info_at_afghanwomensmission.org

Despite Increasing Threats to her Life, Afghan Government Withdraws Security for Joya

March 20, 2006 – 27 year old Afghan parliamentarian Malalai Joya is waging a battle against powerful forces trying to silence her. While on tour in the US, she has continued to receive threats from inside and outside the United States.

During a live Afghanistan Television call-in show, one caller openly threatened to kill her. Most recently in Fremont,
California, more than a dozen men disrupted a speaking event and aggressively hurled verbal insults at her.

Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, warlords have stepped up their propaganda efforts to try to discredit Malalai. At the same time, the Afghan central government is reducing their contribution for her security in Afghanistan.

We are asking for your support to help restore her security by replacing the contribution recently withdrawn by the Afghan government.

The US State Department pays millions of dollars to US-based company DynCorp to hire scores of security guards for Afghan president Hamid Karzai, but similar funds have never been made available to protect vital voices like Malalai Joya.

Malalai Joya enjoys immense popularity throughout Afghanistan for being the only member of the Parliament who dares to criticize the warlords in public. As a result of her courageous stand, she routinely receives death threats by phone, mail, and in person. To date, she has survived 4 assassination attempts.

When Malalai Joya returns to Afghanistan at the end of March, she will not have adequate protection from the dangers she faces.

She recently told a BBC reporter: “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.”

We have to preserve the voice of this brave woman who speaks for millions of silenced Afghans. The threat to her strong voice is certain and immediate.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today to help pay for the salaries and equipment of her security guards, no longer paid for by the Afghan government.

MAKE A SECURE ONLINE DONATION:
https://www.malalaijoya.com/donor/donor_info.php

OR

WRITE A CHECK:
Make checks out to “International Humanities Center,” and write “Malalai Joya” in the memo. Mail checks to International Humanities Center, P.O. Box 923, Malibu, CA 90265.

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Afghan lawmaker speaks up for women

East Bay visit draws often-hostile crowd critical of ‘sectarian’ viewpoints

Inside Bay Area, March 18, 2006

By Aman Mehrzai, CORRESPONDENT

FREMONT — Afghan Parliamentarian Malalai Joya knew she would face a divided crowd of mostly Afghans before she spoke Thursday at the Century House on Fremont Boulevard.

But she got more than she expected after a group of young Afghan men started protesting a few minutes into her speech, holding banners that read “Malalai (does) not represent women of Afghanistan.”

“What have you come here for?” interrupted one man. Heads turned to see the group of men lined up in the back of the room, protesting Joya.

“I have come here to speak for the women and success of Afghanistan,” Joya responded nervously. “You can come up here and beat me if you like. (I suggest) if you’re going to do it then do it, but I ask you to take your seats and let me speak my voice, then you can respond when I am finished.”

Joya is known for speaking out for women’s rights, but she is also critical of policies within the Karzai regime.

Joya said she came to the Bay Area as part of a larger U.S. and Canadian tour to express her views to the Americanpeople from a woman’s perspective.

She first spoke at the University of California, Berkeley at an event sponsored by the Gender and Women’s Studies Department.

Joya is critical of the electoral process in her country, saying that warlords used intimidation tactics of force and bribery to get people to vote for them.

“People don’t talk about the bad things happening, they don’t focus on the extreme corruption that could endanger our country from falling apart,” Joya said.

With many members of the government opposed to her views, Joya said she worries for her safety.

“Those who are in power know that I will expose them,” she said. “They don’t want me here to speak out. The president of Parliament gave a speech to encourage us not to tell the problems of Afghanistan to the West. I am concerned for my life. People have tried to kill me before, and I am not sure if I will be alive to ever come back.”

Throughout her speech in Fremont, supporters and opposers clapped and voiced outrage.

At one point, however, even those who opposed Joya applauded her encouragement for national unity.

Joya’s critics said she offers a sectarian view that does not represent the majority.

“Joya herself is part of the former communistic Maoist views of China, that is against religion and capitalism,” said a person who asked that his name not be used. “Her views are representative of one of many sects within Afghanistan today.”

Although she once went to a Revolutionary Afghan Women’s Association school as a refugee, Joya denies being a part of any group at all.

“I am against corruption,” Joya said. “Whether it is from a communist, Islamist, former Mujahideen or drug dealers. I don’t favor anything except for the success of our country by ridding it of corruption.”

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An Afghan Voice That Fear Won’t Silence

The Washington Post

By Nora Boustany

Friday, March 17, 2006; A16

The warnings come by telephone or in leaflets: We will kidnap you, then kill you. You stand to benefit if you stop your struggle.

But Malalai Joya , 27, a member of Afghanistan’s parliament and a former refugee turned activist, is determined to tell it like it is, regardless of the risks and fear.

The threats have been frequent and real. In 2004, she said, two men plotted to shoot her after she gave a speech for International Women’s Day. Her bodyguards spirited her out of the building’s back door.

On her way to give an address in her native village in the western province of Farah, a bomb was detonated to disperse the crowd and intimidate her, she said.

In December, after being elected to the lower house of parliament — the country’s first in 30 years — Joya stood up and criticized the presence of warlords and other human rights abusers in the body. Some of the lawmakers pounded their fists on their desks and vowed to kill her.

“I know parliamentarians in other countries bang their desks, too. But in Afghanistan, outside they are waiting for you with guns,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “If I cannot tell the truth, I should resign, and I have no place in the parliament.”

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.

Joya was 4 days old when her parents fled to Iran in 1978. That year, the Communist government seized power in Afghanistan, paving the way for the Soviet invasion. When she turned 7, the family moved to Pakistan so she could attend school.

The family moved to different cities, and from one miserable refugee camp to another. At 15, she became a teacher, dedicated to fighting the illiteracy in her midst. In 1998, she moved to Herat, in northwestern Afghanistan, and joined an underground movement that supported schools for girls at a time when they were banned by the repressive Taliban government.

“We had to shift from location to location, and we always carried the Koran so we could pretend we were in prayer, not in class,” she said. Taliban spies would follow groups of girls heading in the same direction, she recalled, in an attempt to find the schools and shut them down.

She derives inspiration from her namesake, Malalai of Maiwand, an Afghan heroine who in 1880 is said to have rushed onto the battlefield at Maiwand to rally Afghan forces fighting the British.

But the enemy of the modern-day Malalai is homegrown.

“The Taliban have been replaced. People have changed physically, but not mentally. They are all the same,” she said. “They are all Taliban in different clothes. They don’t really believe in democracy.”

“Corrupt leftovers from the Northern Alliance used their money and guns to return to power,” she said, referring to the main anti-Taliban militia. “Now they are the biggest risk for the future of Afghanistan.”

She lamented that $12 billion in foreign assistance and another $10 billion in the pipeline would not filter down to impoverished Afghans in need of clothing, schooling, books and medical care. Citing a UNICEF report, she said 700 children and 15 to 20 women were dying daily in Afghanistan because of poor public health services.

Joya forged her appeal among simple folk in Farah province by working for the Organization for Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities, a nongovernmental organization active in health care, education and income-generating projects. Human rights abuses against Afghan women continue in the post-Taliban period, she said, bringing up the case of Nadia Anjuman , a poet beaten to death by her husband in November, and Amina , a young woman who was stoned to death by fellow villagers last April after having an affair with a neighbor.

“I am young, and the women of Afghanistan need me to speak out against injustice,” she said when asked whether she feared for her safety. “My life has not really changed. I live in my uncle’s house in Kabul so as not to be alone.”

Of the 68 women in the parliament’s lower house, Joya said, some have been supportive of her efforts but others have avoided talking to her out of fear and pressure from their male peers.

Joya was in Washington this week to meet with leaders at Vital Voices, a nonprofit organization that promotes the role of women in leadership and governance. With funding and help from the French government, Vital Voices is trying to organize an eight-day program in June for Afghanistan’s female legislators to help them govern more effectively and to boost camaraderie.

“We want to provide them with some training. This is what they are asking for and some of them have never been in public office before,” said Alyse Nelson Bloom , a director of Vital Voices. The goal is to sharpen their negotiation techniques and help them formulate strategy together.

“I want to expose the drug lords and criminals who reduced Afghanistan to this mess,” Joya said. “I want to use the little chance of democracy we now have.”

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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Afghan Lawmaker Speaks of Ongoing Challenges for Women

The Daily Californian

Friday, March 17, 2006

Malalai Joya, a 27-year-old female member of the Afghan parliament, spoke about the failures of democracy and women’s rights in her home country yesterday as part of her North American tour.

Joya, who has been hailed by the BBC as “the most famous woman in Afghanistan,” told an audience of more than 100 students, faculty and local residents about her struggles as one of the few women in the male-dominated Afghan government.

“Inside the parliament they don’t respect me as a human,” she said. “I want to be a voice for the suffering people who have been silenced.”

Joya fielded questions from the audience, many of which addressed current political conditions in Afghanistan after the fall of Taliban rule.

“I have to tell the reality of the situation and … there has been little changes from the Taliban rule until now,” she said. “Women do not have rights—this is not a democracy.”

Joya also spoke of the violence that her country has experienced in its history of civil war, and the personal violence she experiences daily, including four assassination attempts since 2003 when she famously argued that war lords within the Afghan parliament should be tried in international courts.

“My wounded country is not free. The United States troops have not developed democracy,” she said. “I won elections with nothing in my hands but my people’s trust and love.”

A handful of students in the Afghan Student Association listened to Joya, who they say has become a model for women in Afghanistan and in America.

“There’s a lot more progress to be made,” said junior Palwasha Aminy. “She’s a manifestation of all Afghan women and to be able to leave and come to America, I really respect her.”

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Afghan legislator: Country’s improvement has stalled since Taliban was overthrown

Joya has survived several assassination attempts and continues to receive death threats.

Fosters Daily Democrat, Dover, New Hampshire

March 12, 2006

By Julie Masis, Staff Writer

DOVER — One of Afghanistan’s most famous woman told a crowd at the Quaker Meeting House Saturday that the situation in her country has not improved much since the fall of the Taliban.

Malalai Joya, 27, was recently elected to the Afghan Parliament and was called by the British Broadcasting Corporation “the most famous woman of Afghanistan.” She addressed about 100 people in a crowded room of the small church, during a tour of the United States to describe to Americans the true situation in her country.

The Taliban were replaced by similar fundamentalist warlords “with blood on their hands,” she said.

“In the name of God, democracy and peace, from my sisters — the women of Afghanistan — Taliban may have gone, but abuses are not over,” she said, “This democracy brought the Afghani people out of the pan but into the fire. The United States is supporting fundamentalists more than ever. It supports the Northern Alliance — the most brutal and ignorant fundamentalists.”

Despite the millions of dollars in aid the country receives, there has been no improvement — people still have no electricity, no education, no medical care, and no security, Joya said. Despite the 6,000 U.N. troops in Kabul, people are still killed in broad daylight, she said. Drug trafficking continues while poor farmers are stopped from growing poppies and sometimes have to “sell their daughters” to survive.

Joya said there is rampant misuse of public funds by government officials.

“Dear friends,” she continued, “Such a country cannot be free and liberated. My country is not free. The presence of U.S. troops is not to establish democracy: it is only for its own strategic interest. America was never concerned about the establishment of democracy.”

Joya also said that the situation for women in Afghanistan has not improved much, despite the fact that women are no longer forced to be covered head to toe with a burka. She said women and girls who attend school still receive threats, and as a result the majority are still illiterate.

Joya has survived several assassination attempts and continues to receive death threats.

She took questions after her speech, speaking in English but using a translator’s assistance.

The first question came from Natalie Healy, of Exeter. Healy said her son Dan was killed while serving in Afghanistan last year, and she wore his army photograph pinned to her jacket.

“What do you want? How do you hope to achieve it? What’s your alternative?” she asked Joya.

Joya did not immediately understand that the woman’s son was killed in Afghanistan. She repeated that the United States should stop supporting the Northern Alliance and other similar fundamentalist organizations.

When Joya understood the woman’s son was killed in Afghanistan, she said, “On behalf of the people of Afghanistan, I’d like to express my condolences.”

Joan Sergio, who was seated in front of Healy, said, “Just because I speak out against the war, doesn’t mean I don’t support the people who are fighting — for whatever they think they’re fighting for.”

“For our protection!” screamed Healy, and someone told her to calm down.

After the questions, Healy went up to talk to Joya, and the two women gave each other a hug.

Joya said she learned to speak English while attending a refugee school in Iran and Pakistan. She returned to Afghanistan in 1998.

Tom Jackson, with NH Peace Alliance and the Seacoast Peace Response, invited Joya to Dover after noticing that she was coming to speak in Cambridge, Mass. Jackson said Joya might return to New Hampshire for a talk at Dartmouth College before going back to Afghanistan on March 25.

This is Joya’s first visit to the United States since her election.

Joya said her people need moral and material support. For more information about Joya and her American tour, visit http://afghanwomensmission.org/index.php. Donations will be used for Joya’s U.S. tour and for the Hamoon Clinic, a free health center Joya runs in the Farah Province of Afghanistan.

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