Malalai Joya: the woman MP who dares to defy Afghanistan’s warlord rulers

She has survived five assassination attempts, been suspended from parliament and forced into hiding, but Joya refuses to be silent

Published on TIMES online, (from The Sunday Times), July 5, 2009.

My father always said he could spot me in any crowd of women wearing burqas because I walk like a penguin. You have no peripheral vision because of the netting in front of your eyes — and it’s hot and suffocating under there. 

The most useful thing about these long blue robes is that you can hide schoolbooks and other forbidden objects beneath them. Under the Taliban I also appreciated the anonymity of the burqa when I had to walk to and from the illicit lessons I gave for girls. Today, however, I don’t feel safe under the thickest veil, even though I have armed guards. My visitors are searched for weapons and even the flowers at my wedding had to be checked for bombs.

I was driving through Kabul not long ago when a friend and I decided to stop for ice-cream. I thought I’d be safe uncovering myself for just a few minutes to enjoy it. “You are Malalai Joya, right?” said one of the customers almost immediately. My friend and I had to eat up quickly and leave. You never know who’ll make a telephone call …

… After four days, I finally got my chance to address the gathering. Because I’m only 5ft tall, an official lowered the microphone. I spoke as rapidly as I could and directly from my heart: “My criticism of all my compatriots is why you are allowing the legitimacy and legality of this loya jirga to come into question due to the presence of those criminals who have brought our country to this state … They are responsible for our situation now.”

Many in the huge tent where we were meeting applauded, but most of the warlords glowered at me with faces as hard as stone. I went on: “It is they who turned our country into the centre of national and international wars. They are the most anti-women elements in our society who brought our country to this state and they intend to do the same again.”

By now a number of the warlords were on their feet, yelling and shaking their fists in my direction.

“They should be prosecuted in the national and international courts,” I said. Then, suddenly, I could no longer hear my voice echoing over the PA system: the chairman had cut off my microphone.

There was an enormous commotion, with angry men lurching in my direction. One of the female delegates started shouting: “Take the pants off this prostitute and tie them on her head!” In the midst of the pandemonium, a widow called Ayeesha grabbed me and shielded me with her body. She knew the depravities of which these angry men were capable.

My supporters and a group of United Nations facilitators huddled around me, arms locked, to protect me as they escorted me through the mob that was still screaming insults and threats. That night, a group of people came looking for me at the university residence where I was staying. Carrying sticks and screaming insults, they demanded: “Where is that prostitute girl? When we find her, we will rape her and kill her!”

Subsequently there were several attempts to kill me. A huge roadside bomb, for example, exploded just ahead of my car, spattering debris onto its roof. Once, a man who claimed to be one of my former bodyguards asked to see me after I’d delivered a speech — but was found to have a concealed pistol … (full long text).

Comments are closed.