Fabulous Female: Malalai Joya

This weeks fabulous female is Malalai Joya, known as “the bravest woman in Afghanistan”. Born in 1978, in Farah, Western Afghanistan her family had to flee in 1982 to Iran.


She started her humanitarian work very young, when she was only in 8th grade: “I started working as an activist when I was very young, grade 8. When I started working amongst our people, especially women, it was so enjoyable for me. I learned a lot from them, even though they were not educated. Before I started, I want to tell you, I didn’t know anything about politics. I learned from people who were non-educated, non-political people who belonged to a political situation. I worked with different committees in the refugee camps. I remember that in every house that I went everyone had different stories of suffering. I remember one family we met. Their baby was just skin and bones. They could not afford to take the baby to a doctor, so they had to just wait for their baby to die. I believe that no movie maker, no writer is able to write about these tragedies that we have suffered. Not only in Afghanistan, but also PalestineIraq…The children of Afghanistan are like the children of Palestine. They fight against enemies with only stones. These kinds of children are my heroes and my heroines.”

—Malalai Joya, November 5, 2007
Malalai Joya Website

In 1998 she returned to Afghanistan, where she continued her humanitarian work, becoming the director of the NGO Organisation of Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities (OPAWC).

In 2003 she made her famous speech at the Loya Jirga, which had convened to ratify the Constitution of Afghanistan. She had been elected as a delegate, and it was this speech (and the reactions to it) which first brought her to the attention of the international media. Here is the video with English subtitles:

She bravely spoke against the war lords – even as she was surrounded by them. She was banned from the congregation for daring to speak up. She has since survived four assassination attempts and when she travels in Afghanistan it is under the disguise of a burqa and with armed guards by her side.

In 2005 she was elected as a member of the Afghani parliament, she was very popular and received the 2nd highest amount of personal votes in her province. During her time in parliament she continued to speak against the war lords and the crimes they continued to commit against the Afghan people – especially the women.

Malalai Joya Website

She was verbally and physically attacked in May, 2006, when she accused members of the parliament of being guilty of war crimes, yet she continues to speak out against them, saying: “Never again will I whisper in the shadows of intimidation. I am but a symbol of my people’s struggle and a servant to their cause. And if I were to be killed for what I believe in, then let my blood be the beacon for emancipation and my words a revolutionary paradigm for generations to come.”

In 2007, she told the BBC news, in a comment to the many death threats she has received, that: “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.”

In May 2007, members of the Afghan parliament voted to suspend her for three years, because she had broken Article 70, stating that members couldn’t criticize other members. There has since been demonstrations to support Malalai Joya, both in Afghanistan, and abroad. Many international figures (amongst them, Shirin Ebadi whom I have previously featured as a Fabulous Female)  have also spoken out against the injustice of her suspension, and in support of re-instating her in the Afghan parliament.

Since then she has continued to travel internationally to promote her cause. She has been named one of the seven most powerful feminists by Forbes (2010), named in the 2010 TIME 100 list of the 100 most influential people in the world, The Guardian listed her as among Top 100 Women.
Malalai Joya Website

In 2009 her autobiography (co-written with Canadian Writer Derrick O’Keefe), was published. It is absolutely magnificent and I highly recommend it. In Northern America under the title: A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice. In the UK and Australia under the title: Raising my Voice: The extraordinary story of the Afghan woman who dares to speak out. It has also been translated into German, Danish, Norwegian, French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian and possibly more.

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