'The Killing of Women Is Like
Killing a Bird Today in Afghanistan'
Stephen de Tarczynski interviews
Afghan women's rights activist MALALAI JOYA
by Stephen de Tarczynski, Inter
www.commondreams.org/, July 13,
It is easy to understand why epithets
such as brave and courageous often accompany the name of Malalai
Joya. Slight of stature and serenely demure, the young Afghan
woman's past and present encapsulate the plight of her countrywomen.
Malalai Joya, speaking in Australia. According
to the BBC, "Malalai Joya is one of the most popular MPs
She came to the world's attention in 2003
when, at a constitutional convention attended by Afghanistan's
leaders, she publicly accused many of those present of being war
criminals, drug lords and supporters of the Taliban.
Joya continued to speak out against fellow
parliamentarians following her election to the national assembly
in 2005. While her outspoken views have gained much support both
inside Afghanistan and internationally, Joya has also created
She remains suspended from parliament
for being openly critical of fellow MPs and has survived several
In Australia to promote her book 'Raising
My Voice', Joya, still just 31, met with IPS writer Stephen de
Tarczynski to discuss the position of women in her country. The
following are extracts from the interview.
IPS: How do you see the situation for
women today in Afghanistan?
Malalai Joya: Women and children, they
were the most and first victims and still there is much violence
against them. And the main reason is that the Northern Alliance
fundamentalists, who are mentally the same as the Taliban but
physically are different, came to power.
First of all, like the Taliban, they mix
Islam with politics to use against women of my country. The situation
of women is like hell in most of the provinces.
It is true that in some big cities like
Kabul, like Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif, some women have access to jobs
and education but in most of the provinces, not only is there
no justice at all - even in the capital - but in faraway provinces
the situation of women is becoming more disastrous. The killing
of women is like killing a bird today in Afghanistan.
IPS: In your book you quote George W.
Bush's 2002 state of the union address when the then-U.S. president
said that the mothers and daughters of Afghanistan were captive
in their own homes under the Taliban and became free when the
Taliban were ousted from power. Do you regard Afghan women and
girls as free?
MJ: The U.S. government lies and wants
to pretend to the people around the world that for the first time
they brought women's rights to Afghanistan and that women do not
After 9/11 the main message of the U.S
government was that women were not wearing burqas anymore but
today, eight years later, most women wear burqas because of security
[concerns]. I wear a burqa because of security.
In these past eight years, Afghan women
haven't gained even the limited rights that they had in the 1970s
and 1980s. In the past it was like in western countries. Women
wore what they wished, as I wear what I wish now [in Australia].
But in Afghanistan I have to wear a burqa and most of the women
of my country don't like that.
But burqas are not the only or main problem
for women. We are wearing it now just to be alive. Even now it
is useful, we have to wear it. Wearing the burqa is the main tactic
I use to be alive, the same as I used in the period of the Taliban.
IPS: You've become a figurehead for women's
rights in Afghanistan, but are there other women risking as much
as you do but who we don't hear about?
MJ: Even more than me. Only when they
have been killed, then through democratic journalists the world
knows it, people know it. As I said when Sitara Achakzai [a provincial
council member in Kandahar who was murdered in April], the last
great woman activist to be killed, she is not the first one and
unfortunately she won't be the last one.
Before Sitara Achakzai, Safia Amajan has
been killed in Kandahar [the teacher and public servant was 63
when assassinated in 2006]. In the same province Malalai Kakar
[a high-ranking policewoman who was murdered last year] has been
In Herat province Nadia Anjaman was a
great poet-activist has been killed [at 25 years of age in 2005].
In Parwan [in 2007] Zakia Zaki was a young journalist on radio
who had lots of supporters, people loved her, was killed in her
IPS: Do assassinations of women like Sitara
Achakzai indicate that there is a fear in Afghanistan of women
who raise their voice? Are the Taliban and others afraid of women
MJ: Of course they are afraid. That's
why they are against the role of women, half the population of
our country. That's why I say that society is like a bird, with
one wing being a man and one wing being a woman. When one wing
is injured can the bird fly?
For society also it's impossible. That's
why they want half the population to always be in darkness, to
not have education, to not play a role, just to be in the house
and give birth to babies.
Women are like machines to them. They
don't even see a woman as a human.
Every year around the world on Mar. 8,
women celebrate International Women's Day with lots of hope and
happiness. But in my country, this year three women set themselves
on fire on Mar. 8. But it's even more than that. Tens of women
every month commit suicide.
Thirteen years ago, the fascist commander
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar threw acid in the face of women and girls
who were outside looking for jobs or education. But the same crimes
are happening, repeating now under the name of democracy.
IPS: Are there many other individual women
and groups who fight for women's rights in Afghanistan?
MJ: Let me tell you about RAWA [Revolutionary
Association of the Women of Afghanistan]. This is a woman's political
organisation whose leader Meena - in my opinion she is a hero
of my country, my people love her a lot - was killed by the fundamentalists.
Still they have projects and underground activists too. The same
problems [exist] as under the Taliban.
But only one time they had a function
in public, many people came to their hall. At that time I was
here [in Australia] when they invited me. They weren't afraid
even though a bomb to kill them all was possible. But they gathered
openly and exposed the mask of these warlords.
IPS: What is your message for people around
MJ: My message always to democratic people
around the world is to educationally support people of my country,
activists of my country, democrats of my country because they
are the alternative for the future of Afghanistan. They are able
to fight against terrorism and fundamentalism [although] they
are risking their lives. As always I am saying they are my secret
heroes and heroines.
I have said many times condolences on
behalf of my people to those families in Australia and the U.S.,
everywhere that I went, who lost their loved sons and husbands
in Afghanistan. I said the condolences are not enough, to cry
these tears is not enough. Please raise your voice first of all
against the wrong policies of your government. This is a war crime.
They [U.S. forces] bombed Farah province
in May. More than 150 civilians have been killed, most of them
women and children. They even used white phosphorous but they're
just saying 'sorry', that is it. They don't even want to give
the exact reports, just that 20 or 30 people were killed while
government officials are saying more than 150 civilians dead.
Some of the children were as young as three years old, but even
government officials don't want to include them in the lists.
Are three-year-old babies not human?
IPS: Your country continues to be ravaged
by war, women's rights are still being trampled on and you face
the likelihood of further attempts on your life. What gives hope?
MJ: Another gift of the U.S. government,
when [U.S. President Barack] Obama took office they want to get
some Taliban, like [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar, to join the [Afghan]
But two days after that, acid was thrown
on the faces of 15 girls in Kandahar. And [Afghan President Hamid]
Karzai invited Mullah Omar to join the government. But at the
same time when journalists interviewed those girls in a bad condition
in the hospital they are saying they'll go back to school when
they are healthy. It's hope. And these are steps towards democracy.
IPS: Where do you get your courage?
MJ: First, the truth itself gives courage.
And also the sorrows and pain of my people, especially the condition
of women. The history of my country and values like democracy
and women's rights, these values give me hope. And I believe that
these will not be given to us by someone.
But the U.S. government and its allies,
unfortunately they have pushed us from the frying pan and into
the fire. But we are the ones who firstly are responsible.
The silence of good people is worse than
the actions of bad people. That's why I don't fear death but I
do fear the political silence against injustice. I'm sure that
one day we will achieve these values as our history shows that
we never accept an occupation and we have many heroes and heroines
in our country who taught us that sitting in silence is not the