By Sacha Ismail
The warlords, medievalist religious fanatics and drug traffickers who dominate Afghanistan’s “parliament” don’t like Malalai Joya, of the country’s very few women MPs, one bit. Her exposure of their war crimes, her promotion of women and children’s rights and her advocacy of universal education have made her the victim of four assassination attempts, and she has to pay for her own 24-hour protection. Now they are trying to expel her from their midst.
Joya, 28, is the country’s youngest member of parliament. As a 19-year old refugee from Pakistan, she taught literacy classes to other Afghan women. During the Taliban regime, she ran an orphanage and health clinic. In 2003, she gained international attention for speaking out against warlord control of the drafting of a constitution for “liberated” Afghanistan. As a result of these brave stands, she received the second highest vote in Afghanistan’s Farah province and was easily elected to the lower house of the legislature.
On 20 May, Joya gave an interview in which she not unreasonably suggested that many of her colleagues were of less use than donkeys and cows, since at least donkeys carry things and cows provide milk. Unfortunately, sharp women with a sense of humour are not wanted in the Afghan parliament, and a majority of members voted the next day to suspend her from office.
This suspensions took place, under article 70 of the legislature’s rules of procedure, which forbid members from criticising one another. Joya’s specific crime was “insulting the institution of parliament.” Many other members of parliament have criticised each other, but none has been suspended — but then they are not bolshy 28 year old women who regular demand the perpetrators of war crimes be brought to justice. Article 70, of course, exists precisely so that democratic voices can be excluded in this way.
Joya now faces renewed threats to her life. She apparently never sleeps in the same house twice, and does not expect to grow old. Yet unlike most “liberal” politicians confronting tyranny, she has steadfastly refused to compromise.
If the international left and labour movement do not whip up a storm of protest in defence of Malalai Joya, then what on earth are we here for?
• Defence Committee for Malalai Joya: www.malalaijoya.com