||Volume 20, Number
3, November/December 2007
The bravest woman in Afghanistan visits BC
By Derrick OKeefe
Malalai Joya, the outspoken 29-year-old elected politician and
activist from Afghanistan, has just completed a whirlwind tour of
British Columbia. Appearing at a number of rallies, meetings, and
forums, Joya has spoken out strongly against what she views as a
terribly wrong-headed policy that Canada and its NATO allies are
following in Afghanistan.
Elected from her home province of Farah to the new Afghan
parliament in 2005, Malalai Joya has been the most vocal critic of
the strong presence of warlords and war criminals who, according to
Human Rights Watch, have a dominant presence in the parliament.
Because Joya has denounced these known criminals, many of whom
have been promoted to key posts in Hamid Karzais western-backed
regime, she has been a constant target of these antidemocratic
forces. Since coming to international attention in 2003, when she
spoke out against the presence of warlords at the Constitutional
Assembly, Joya has survived four assassination attempts, and lives in
constant danger. Joya has continued to receive threats, and must live
and travel clandestinely, using the burqa to hide her identity in
addition to always being accompanied by bodyguards.
Joya was the featured speaker at peace rallies in both Victoria
and Vancouver on the weekend of October 2728, and she also
spoke to audiences at the University of Victoria, the Vancouver
Institute, Langara College, the University College of the Fraser
Valley, Simon Fraser University, and at Thompson Rivers University in
Kamloops. She addressed a number of union and community meetings,
including a forum co-sponsored by the BCTF in Port Moody on October
29. Her Canadian tour continues in November, with stops in Toronto
and Halifax, before she heads on to Finland. Prior to visiting
Canada, Joya was in Germany and Italy, where she received numerous
honours for her work on behalf of womens rights and democracy
in her occupied country.
Joya has also made clear that women have not achieved any
substantial improvement in their conditions after more than six years
of war. "In my crying Afghanistan, we have been pushed from the
frying pan into the fire," Joya explains. "The West has put
in power the Northern Alliance, who are every bit as dark-minded and
antiwomen as the Taliban." Joya notes, for example, that rates
of female suicide are as high as ever, and that the life expectancy
of Afghan women is a mere 45 years.
More than just enlightening Canadians about the realities of the
war and about the unsavoury and corrupt government that NATO is
currently backing, Joya has been inspiring people from all walks of
life with her message and her courage. A typical response came my way
from a UBC student who had heard Joya speak on his campus, "She
made me cry, and to tell you the truth Im very worried about
what may happen to her as I cant but think that she is an
extremely important historical figure." UBC professor Dr.
Michael Byers, head of the Liu Institute, described Joya as "the
bravest person I have ever met."
In May of this year, Joyas situation took a turn for the
worse as she was suspended from parliament on the pretext that she
had insulted the institution. Despite this, she continues to use any
and all means to speak out against the warlords that dominate
Despite living under constant physical threat, Joya shows no sign
of being silenced. She explains, "They may kill me one day, but
they cannot silence my voice. You can cut down the flower but you
cannot stop the coming of the spring." She is fond of saying
that "the silence of good people is worse than the actions of
bad people," and it is clear that no menace or intimidation can
Sadly, Canadas Conservative government has remained silent
regarding the case of Malalai Joya, and this puts her at even greater
risk. Joyas message stands in sharp contrast to the position of
the Harper government, which claims that waging counter-insurgency
war until 2011 and beyond will bring democracy, womens rights,
and stability to Afghanistan. For her part, Joya urges, "If
Canada cannot change its role in Afghanistan and stop following the
wrong policy of the US, then it is better that you [the Canadian
military mission] leave."
Try as they might to ignore her, as more and more Canadians come
to know the story of Malalai Joya, her plight and her struggle for
justice will inspire many more good people to speak out and to take
action for social change.
Malalai Joyas tour of Canada has been organized by BC Labour
Against War, in conjunction with the StopWar peace coalition in
Vancouver. Fundraising has been an important goal of her visit, as
Joya is a director of a non-governmental organization called
Organization Promoting Afghan Womens Capabilites (OPAWC). All
donations to this group go toward health and education projects in
Afghanistan, as well as to covering the costs of Joyas personal
security. Cheques can be made out to the Vancouver & District
Labour Council and mailed to #20-1880 Triumph Street, Vancouver, BC,
V5L 1K3. Please include a note indicating that the donation is for
"Malalai Joya tour" or "OPAWC".
Derrick OKeefe is the editor of www.rabble.ca and the
co-chair of the Vancouver StopWar Coalition.