Biography of Malalai Joya

Malalai Joya

by Abdullah Qazi / October 16, 2008

Malalai Joya is a member of the Wolesi Jirga from Farah province. The Wolesi Jirga is the lower house of Afghanistan’s parliament or national assembly. In September 2005, she became the youngest female member of the Wolesi Jirga, when she received the second highest number of votes in Farah province. However, she was suspended on May 21, 2007, after she violated Article 70 of Afghanistan’s parliament, which prohibits its members from openly insulting one another.

Joya had recently compared the members of the Wolesi Jirga to a “stable or zoo” on an interview with Afghanistan’s Tolo TV. The video of the interview was shown to the members of the Wolesi Jirga, and they voted by a clear majority that Joya had broken Article 70, and disrespected her fellow Wolesi Jirga members. They suspended her for the rest of her term. Well known western personalities and organizations have been pushing for her suspension to be lifted.

Joya gained international attention on December 17, 2003, when as an elected delegate to the Loya Jirga convened to ratify Afghanistan’s constitution, made a brief speech in which she criticized her “compatriots” as to why they were bringing the legitimacy of the Loya Jirga into question by including the presence of criminals, and that they instead should be put on trial for their crimes. By criminals she was referring to the former Mujahideen leaders who fought against the Soviets, and were also present in and participating in the Loya Jirga.

Since then, Joya has repeatedly referred to the former Mujahideen as criminals and warlords and has asked for them to be removed from the government and punished for what she states are “war crimes” against the people of Afghanistan. Well known Afghan figures such Mohammad Yunis Qanuni, speaker of the Wolesi Jirga, and Mohammad Ismael Khan, former governor of Herat and current a member of Hamid Karzai’s cabinet have been targets of Malalai Joya’s verbal attacks in the media. Ismael Khan is considered by many Afghans to be a hero for his fight against the Soviet invaders and the way he rebuilt Herat after the war was over. While Kabul was in chaos after the Soviet war, Herat had a booming economy, and Ismael Khan had built schools, parks, and drastically improved the lives of Afghans in the province.

Joya has not only been openly critical of Afghanistan’s government, especially it’s elected Mujahideen members, but the United States as well. In an article she wrote for the US based, The Nation, published on October 7, 2008, Joya wrote: “US and NATO forces kill more Afghan civilians than enemies of Afghan people. Thousands of innocent Afghan women and children have been killed in the US/NATO operations.” In the same article, Joya also wrote: “My suffering people have been well and truly betrayed over the past seven years by the US and allies. They were invaded and bombed in the name of democracy, human rights and women’s rights…” She ended the article with this: “Afghan people today believe that the United States is willing to put us in danger as long as its own regional and economic interests are met. Because years of conflict in Afghanistan have raised political consciousness, people here hold the United States responsible for pushing Afghanistan to its current tragedies.”

Since her suspension, Joya has done numerous international media interviews and public appearances in the west, speaking against former Mujahideen which she refers to as warlords, and voicing her opinions on Hamid Karzai’s government and the United States, and what she sees as their utter failures. She has even won various human rights awards, such as the Anna Politkovskaya award which she received on October 6, 2008 in London. However, there are many Afghans that are very critical of Joya. She is seen as politically unsophisticated. Some wonder if her attacks on various former Mujahideen members are ethnically motivated. She has even angered many by accusing Afghan officials of using Islamic law as a tool to limit the rights of women in Afghanistan.

Malalai Joya was born in 1978, and is married, but with no children.