Malalai Joya was the youngest person elected to the Afghan parliament in 2005. Such a distinction was not achieved by being a shrinking violet. In every aspect of her life, Joya is outspoken and blunt.
Her critique of President Hamid Karzai makes tough reading for Canada and other NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan. The parliament suspended her in 2007, contrary to the constitution, for her direct, non-diplomatic criticism of powerful warlords, many of whom were also representatives in the parliament.
In A Woman Among Warlords Joya gives the reader specific details about many contentious incidents and she names names – except when the security of her supporters is at stake. Her language is both direct and passionate, especially when she quotes from her own comments to parliament, media, opponents and supporters. (For the text of the book, her co-author is Canadian writer, Derrick O’Keefe.)
Malalai Joya grew up in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran. Educated, well-read and with a supportive family, she began early to campaign for women’s rights. After grade twelve, her family could not afford university, so she joined the Organization for Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities and on their behalf went to Herat during the Taliban era to start classes for girls. When her actions began to draw the attention of extremists, she adopted a different surname to protect her family. (She now lives apart from her husband for the same reason.)
The impoverished people she helped as a teen encouraged her to run for the Loya Jirga that would develop the constitution of Afghanistan and later to run for election to the parliament. Throughout, she became notorious for denouncing warlords, corrupt politicians, and military occupation. She is infuriated by the poverty and violence that prevent girls and women from realizing any of their aspirations. Her grasp of Afghan history is illuminating which helps her readers understand the events that brought Afghanistan to its current state of turmoil.
A Woman Among Warlords is both a memoir and a polemic that fills in many details behind the headlines written by our own media. The arguments and denunciations offered by Malalai Joya are partisan, but it is hard not to be on her side.