“They will kill me but they will not kill my voice, because it will be the voice of all Afghan women. You can cut the flower, but you cannot stop the coming of spring.”
The words above are the words of a great woman leader of our time, Malalai Joya. She is 27, was an educator of girls, including in secret under the Taliban, and became a woman’s rights activist in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. She rose from obscurity three years ago when, as an immensely popular (among the grassroots) woman parliamentarian, she openly denounced the Mujahideen, the Afghan warlords, many of whom are brutal criminals, Islamic fundamentalists, oppressors of women, who rule with an iron fist, but who nevertheless serve as parliamentarians and enjoy the ongoing support of the United States.
George Bush, Laura Bush and U.S. warmongers stole the language of feminism to justify the war in Afghanistan, claiming the U.S. had some interest in liberating Afghan women. It was all a lie. According to RAWA:
From 1992 to 2001 Afghan women were treated as cattle by all brands of fundamentalists, from jihadis to the Taliban. Some western writers have tried to suggest that this oppression has its roots in Afghan traditions and that it is disrespectful of “cultural difference” to criticise it. Yet Afghan women themselves are not silent victims. There is resistance, but you have to look for it, as any serious anti-fundamentalist group has to work semi-underground. The Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), which was outlawed under the Taliban, still can’t open an office in Kabul. We still can’t distribute our magazine Payam-e-Zan (Women’s Message) openly. Shopkeepers are still threatened with death for stocking our publications, and RAWA supporters have been tortured and imprisoned for distributing them. People who are caught reading our literature are still in danger.
Feminism does not need to be imported; it has already taken root in Afghanistan. Long before the US bombing, progressive organisations were trying to establish freedom, democracy, secularism and women’s rights. Then, western governments and media showed little interest in the plight of Afghan women. When, before September 11 2001, RAWA gave footage of the execution of Zarmeena to the BBC, CNN, ABC and others, it was told that the footage was too shocking to broadcast. However, after September 11 these same media organisations aired the footage repeatedly. Similarly, some of RAWA’s photographs documenting the Taliban’s abuses of women were also used – without our permission. They were reproduced as flyers and dropped by American warplanes as they flew over Afghanistan.
Having stolen RAWA literature to justify war in Afghanistan, the United States then abandoned Afghan women, who are now an absolutely devastated people. The life expectancy of Afghan women is 45 years. Less than 14 percent of Afghan women can read. 25 percent of Afghan children die before they are five years old. 1,600 to 1,900 Afghan women among each 100,000 die during childbirth. Accordig to UNIFEM, 65 percent of the 50,000 widows in Kabul see suicide as the only option to escape their miseries, poverty and desolation. According to RAWA, as many as 25,000 Afghan women worked as prostitutes in 2001 — 5,000 in Kabul alone — with predictions that the number will rise as women and girls resort to selling themselves to escape poverty. Afghan women’s rights groups believe the number of prostituted women in the country is increasing at a greater rate than before because the country has reached an unprecedented level of economic hardship and lawlessness. 70 per cent of Afghans live on less than the equivalent of $2.00 U.S. a day and as many as 40 per cent of rural Afghans are malnourished. Meanwhile, U.S. corporations are far and away the beneficiaries of the “aid” to Afghanistan of which Bush and his warmongers have bragged. Their executives, warlords, opium sellers build corrupto-mansions, hotels, and shopping malls in Kabul while sewage runs through the streets, women in filthy burquas prostitute themselves, and children search for food and salvage in local dumps.
I learned of Malalai Joya as I searched for information about Safai Amajan, the Khardastan women’s minister assassinated last week after having been denied guards or protection by the Afghan government. As I searched for information, it was with a sense of hauntedness. A while ago my oldest daughter sent me a link to a New York Times article about the child brides of Afghanistan, little girls 9, 11, 13 years old who are sold as brides to men in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, because their families are desperately poor and cannot feed them or themselves. Following are some of the photos which continue to haunt me:
Ghulan Haider, 11, is to be married to Faiz Mohammed, 40. She had hoped to become a teacher but was forced to quit her classes when she became engaged.
Roshan Qasem, 11, will join the household of Said Mohammed, 55; his first wife; their three sons; and their daughter, who is the same age as Roshan.
Majabin Mohammad, 13, was sold to this 45-year-old man as payment of a gambling debt.
These child brides often become pregnant, conceive and bear children while they, themselves are still children. If they survive childbirth, it is often with grave physical problems, like fistula, which result in an ongoing flow of excrement from their bodies with the result that they are shunned and anathematized. Having abandoned hopes for an education, they are completely dependent on their husband and his family and are often battered and mistreated. Although the sale of girls as brides is prohibited by law in Afghanistan, it is widely practiced and tolerated by the Mujahideen.
Malalai Joya finds her inspiration in the courageous young women of Afghanistan, women like the revolutionary poet and spokeswoman for women’s rights, Nadia Anjuman, battered to death by her husband in 2005, and her motivation in human rights violations like those described here and like the stoning to death, on the orders of Muhajideen, of the young woman Amina, 29, for adultery. The man who committed adultery with her was lashed 100 times, then walked.
Into this scenario, into this moment in history, walks Malalai Joya. Her life has been threatened many times. She travels with 12 armed guards. In all of it, she speaks her truth, and the truth of Afghan women, to power, the power of the Mujahideen, the power of United States imperialists and colonizers.
Light a candle for this young warrior. Pray for her safety. Support her. She is a beacon of hope, not only for Afghan women, but for me, for all women.