By Amina Saddiq
AT 28, Malalai Joya is Afghanistan’s youngest member of parliament, one of only a handful of women MPs. And Joya is a consistent fighter for women and girls.
She has taught literacy classes and ran an orphanage and health clinic. She has spoken out against the continuing dominance of the warlords, religious fanatics and drug traffickers in Afghanistan’s stitched up and botched together post-Taliban parliament.
For this, for being a brave fighter for the oppressed, Joya has now been suspended by her “fellow MPs” from Parliament. Joya has also received many threats on her life.
Joya’s suspension took place under Paliamentary rules which forbid members from criticising each other. When other MPs have done this they have not been suspended. But then they are not militant women who refuses to compromise in the face of tyranny.
Why is the campaign to defend Malalai Joya so important?
In the last two years there has been a resurgence of the Taliban in parts of Afghanistan; they have made links with some warlords and tribal leaders (although many people are simply intimidated in doing the Taliban’s bidding), as well as Pakistani jihadist group. They have made murderous attacks: planting roadside bombs, carrying out suicide bombings, killing teachers and rivals and perceived trouble makers. As before a big part of their operations involves harassing women, burning schools especially, trying to eliminate education for girls.
The Taliban has benefited from the weakness and peculiarity of government in Afhanistan — an issue which people like Joya have sought to highlight and change. Some of the local leaders and warlords who were pushed to the fore in the 20 plus years of civil war were integrated into Hamid Karzai’s government after 2006. And those that were excluded from government under pressure of either the UN or Afghanistan’s new Parliament have been allowed to continue to rule the roost in their own areas or given titular roles. These men too have made life very hard for women and girls.
It is true that the new constitution with its elected President and National Assembly could have been a countervailing pressure — as long as people like Joya could be democratically elected. But, here again, there is weakness; the constitution left intact many of the old sharia institutions.
Once again women fearful when they go out without burqas or other heavy coverings. Girls can now attend school, but many do not attend or attend only sporadically. Their families fear (or say they fear) attack.
Much of the suffering of women and girls remains a matter of “custom and tradition” — such as not being able to escape abuse at home. But these problems are exacerbated by the conditions of the country: minimal infrastructure, poor security, corruption in public life.
Women like Joya are fighting the weight of tradition, old reaction and new corruption. We need to mount an international campaign in her defence.