Saturday, November 10, 2007
Joya To The World
Afghan activist pulls for peace at Dal
Hero, teacher, activist, politician. Target. Malalai Joya has been many things in her life, but one thing she refuses to be is afraid. She spoke at an event organized by the Halifax Peace Coalition on Nov. 8.
The 29-year-old women’s rights advocate and former member of Afghanistan parliament is hated by powerful people in her country.
Two years ago, she was the youngest person elected to the Wolesi Jirga, the Afghan parliament. Since then, she has survived four assassination attempts, but continues to voice her people’s concern.
Joya was eventually expelled from the Wolesi Jirga last May for remarks she made during a television interview. She said parliament was “worse than a stable.” She said in the controversial interview that a stable was better because it had useful animals in it.
Roughly 350 people attended the event at the Scotiabank auditorium at Dalhousie University. Many had to find a comfortable place to stand at the back when the rows filled.
A table near the door was covered with pamphlets and white poppies pinned to cards that read: "Remembering is not enough. Work for peace!"
Stuart Neatby, a member of the Halifax Peace Coalition, introduced Joya.
"As people of conscience, it is incumbent upon us to amplify the voices of people who struggle for peace," he said.
Joya appeared small in front of the crowd that was riveted by her presence. They gave her a standing ovation before she even opened her mouth to speak.
She seemed to grow as she spoke powerfully about the current situation in her country. She said that her people are "sandwiched between two enemies - the US-loving Northern Alliance (currently in power) and the US-hating Taliban."
Joya believes that as long as Canada supports the Northern Alliance, they are engaging in the United States’ “dirty policies.”
"Canada must act independently and not follow the wrong policy of the US,” she said, adding that democratic parties in Afghanistan need support.
They have no means with which to campaign and are under-represented in a parliament made up of "war lords, drug lords and criminals."
Women’s status has not improved since the Taliban was toppled. One woman dies every 28 minutes in Afghanistan during childbirth.
Joya shared anecdotes about women activists assassinated in Kabul. She said these stories do not get covered by western press.
A woman with short black hair took her turn at the microphone during the question and answer session: "After 30 years of war, I fear there is no way for Afghanistan to defend themselves." She disliked Joya's qualification of Canada's involvement in the country as a "dirty policy."
Her name was Farida, and she left Afghanistan with her husband and daughter in 1998.
Joya was not shaken to run into disagreement in a crowd otherwise showing support. She intensified the earnestness in her words as she talked straight at the woman, who she called “sister.”
"If Canada continues it's involvement the way it is now, all people will stand up against foreign troops," Joya says. "We need the helping hand of democratic people around the world. We don't want occupation."
Later, Farida, who declined to give her last name, said it was an “excellent speech.” She said she would never return to Afghanistan. She left to be safe and her life is here now.
The next day, Joya attended an informal meet-and-greet at the Dalhousie Women's Centre.
She was asked "What are you afraid of?" during a round of introductions.
Joya thought for a few seconds.
"There is a list of people who struggle for good, and everyone wants this list to get more, not to get less," she said.
"It is important that my death affect others. Some will die and everything will die with them. I think that those people that are afraid, everyday die."