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Malalai Joya: An inconvenient truth

By Kellie Tranter - posted Friday, 9 September 2011

Activist, writer and a former Afghan politician Malalai Joya is currently touring the country.

She hasn't yet had the ear of the Prime Minister or the Minister for Defence to discuss the plight of her people or the reality of the war in Afghanistan, but perhaps if Prime Minister Gillard broke bread with Joya she might gain some real insight into the consequences of Australia's involvement in Afghanistan.

I took the opportunity to catch up with Joya in Hobart. She was travel-weary but willing to share her experience and knowledge of the reality of life in Afghanistan.


In the first place, rather than be characterised by ethnic or tribal links, Joya prefers to be called Afghan "in the interests of national unity".

She describes her father as "democratically minded". Her parents always stressed the importance of education and her father in particular inculcated in her the fact that her brothers were no better than her. She is pleased to describe her mother as a housewife, although through Joya's education her mother later became her student.

Her background reminded me of Ann Jones' article 'Women at risk from the Demon within':

We might do well to consider that every Afghan woman or girl who still goes to school does so with the support of a progressive husband or father. Several husbands of prominent working women have been killed for not keeping their wives at home, and many are threatened. What's taking place in Afghanistan is commonly depicted as it is on the Time cover, as a battle of the forces of freedom, democracy and women's rights (that is, the US and the Karzai government) against the demon Taliban. But the real struggle is between progressive Afghan women and men, and a phalanx of regressive forces…

Joya spoke candidly about the books that have influenced her. Kathy Gannon's "I is for Infidel, From Holy War to Holy Terror: 18 Years in Afghanistan" gets an honorable mention. Gannon’s history of Afghanistanfrom 1986 to the present is a 'must watch'. Joya also laughed about how she really enjoyed Charlie Chaplin films: some things are universal.

She says she doesn't think about death, only the hopes she has for her country. She doesn't fear death; she fears political silence. But if she were to face death, "I would have no regrets because I have spoken the truth, the truth of my people". Her people inspire her. Her approach to life and death accords with that of Khalil Gibran.


I asked her what sparked her interest in activism and politics. She describes herself as being "of the war generation". Her family fled to Iran when she was four, then to Pakistan when she was seven. She was lucky to receive an education and after high school became a social activist. She returned to Afghanistan in 1998. She read lots of books and asked lots of questions of her father and her teachers because she couldn't understand how criminals were permitted to run the country. Questions like: Who did that, and why?

Although she prefers to be a social activist she was in a political situation and couldn't sit in silence. She knew that her speech to the Loya Jirga was an opportunity to share her views, and those of justice-loving people both in her country and abroad, with the international community.

Many in parliament didn't dare speak out, she says. It still may cost her her life but she wanted to expose the crimes of the rulers. She has no regrets, but she still asks: "Why are they still in power and why are Western governments supporting them?"

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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