Malalai Joya MP: "the most famous woman in Afghanistan" (BBC)

Speaking on Justice for Women in Afghanistan
(Working title)

The Hawke Centre Focus on Rights series

Tuesday 13 March 2007

Jointly presented by The Bob Hawke Prime Ministerial Centre, the Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan and UNIFEM Australia

A UNIFEM Informs event

Transcripts: Written paper (PDF 40kb - download Adobe Acrobat) - Unedited audio transcript (4.6Mb mp3 audio file)

Malalai JoyaMalalai Joya is described by the BBC as the most famous woman in Afghanistan and at 28 years of age is the youngest member of the Afghani Parliament. Joya is a controversial figure, reviled by many Afghani fundamentalists yet viewed by others as a freedom fighter and heroine in contemporary Afghanistan.

She has made her name as a women's rights activist who has attacked Afghanistan's most powerful groupings, the Mujahideen which won their reputation by defeating the Soviet armed occupation.

During the civil war in 1982, when Ms Joya was 4 years old, her family fled Afghanistan to the refugee camps of Iran and then Pakistan. She finished her education in Pakistan and, at the age of 19, began teaching literacy courses there to other women. After the Soviet Union withdrew their forces, Malalai Joya returned to Afghanistan in 1998 during the Taliban's reign when she established an orphanage and a health clinic, and ran a school teaching women in secret.

In December 2003 Joya rose from obscurity with her first and most famous outburst as a delegate at the Loya Jirga (grand council), convened in Kabul to formulate a new draft constitution for Afghanistan. On that occasion several ex-Mujahideen delegates tried to attack her after she described them as "criminals" who had "destroyed the country." The chief of the Loya Jirga, called her "infidel" and "communist". Her stance appeared to be endorsed when she was subsequently elected an MP for Farah in October, coming second overall in the province. Such support for a woman candidate was an astonishing result from one of the most conservative regions of the country.

Since then she has survived four assassination attempts, and travels in Afghanistan under a burqa and with armed guards.

"Every democrat must be ready to die for truth and freedom," said Ms Joya. I am not better than any of the others, but I am young and energetic and the women of Afghanistan need me."

Malalai Joya is also director of the non-governmental group, Organisation of Promoting Afghan Women's Capabilities (OPAWC) in the Western Afghanistan provinces of Herat and Farah. She is married to Kabul-based student of agriculture and has six sisters and three brothers.

More information about Ms Malalai Joya may be found on her web site: www.malalaijoya.com

A UNIFEM Informs event

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