News of a recent law aimed at codifying the oppression of Shia women in Afghanistan has sparked international attention, and protest by Afghan women themselves.

It would seem that the media and others have noticed that Afghan women have not been liberated by years of occupation. Malalai Joya made world headlines back in 2003 when she decried the presence of warlords and fundamentalists in positions of power at Afghanistan’s post-Taliban constitutional assembly, or Loya Jirga. Only 25 years old at the time, she has since survived several assassination attempts, been elected to — and then kicked out of — Parliament and continued to speak out for women’s rights and self-determination for her country.

Joya shares her thoughts on the latest law against women’s rights and the protest it has sparked.

Derrick O’Keefe: What are your thoughts on last week’s protest in Kabul and the attack against it?

Malalai Joya:
Despite the threats from the fundamentalist bands that are still armed and in power, it is of course great and heartening when some women come out into the streets and oppose such laws. It shows Afghan women will not allow the laws of the Middle Ages to be applied against them and that they have the strength to stand up for their rights.

In the past few years our country’s unfortunate women have resisted their suffering through hundreds of self-immolations; I am very hopeful that Afghan women are gaining the consciousness not to burn themselves but instead to stand up and claim their rights through struggle.

DO: What do you think of this new law and what does it tell us about Karzai’s government?

MJ: This law is an inevitable outcome of the rule of the fundamentalists and in practice much more awful laws have been unofficially imposed on our people by the U.S.-backed warlords and drug-lords across Afghanistan — they have full control over our people to impose a ‘law of the jungle.’

This is far from the first time that Karzai has compromised with the fundamentalists and approved laws made by them. He has installed brutal and ignorant extremists in key posts; they were encouraged and now have enough power to pass laws of their design.

When the U.S. and its allies replaced the Taliban with the fundamentalists of the Northern Alliance in 2001, every Afghan knew that these terrorist bands were no different than the Taliban. Today, unfortunately, we can all clearly see this. The nature of the fake democracy ‘donated’ to Afghanistan by the U.S. government, which was trumpeted by mainstream Western media as an achievement, stands exposed before the world. 

Afghan women have been betrayed in the past eight years under occupation. They are deeply feed up with the propaganda of the Afghan government and its international backers who invaded Afghanistan in the name of liberating women.

DO: So this law against Shia women is more the rule than the exception.

MJ: Afghan women are being raped, forced into marriage, traded, suppressed due to domestic violence and kept in their houses — the extremists see women as second-class human beings. Despite these awful crimes and brutalities against our women, impunity prevails across Afghanistan and those responsible are not prosecuted. In rare cases when anyone is arrested for crimes against women, the powerful warlords use their influence to release them.

DO: Another female politician, Sitara Achakzai, was recently assassinated in Kandahar. There was some talk in the media about the government providing security for all female MPs. But your security funding was cut a long time ago, and then they even found a pretext to kick you out of Parliament. Has there been any progress on the issue?

MJ: Female politicians are not protected at all by the government. What they say for the media are like words written on a piece of ice and then put out under the hot sunlight! The Afghan government and its American guardians just say beautiful words about “liberation” of Afghan women, but in fact only some cosmetic changes are made to deceive the people of the world.

The Karzai government has not restored funding for my security, and I am still funding my security through the individual donations I receive from my supporters around the world, for which I am thankful.

DO: U.S. President Obama has denounced the law against Shia women. What do you make of this?

MJ: Obama called the new law “abhorrent,” but I think the U.S. government backing the fundamentalist warlords and imposing them on the Afghan people should be called “abhorrent” first.

I think the new policy of Obama will put our people and the whole region in a more dangerous situation than before. It shows clearly that the U.S. government is not interested in stability and peace in the region, and only wants a permanent military base in the region to threaten China, Iran, Russia and other Asian powers.


Derrick O’Keefe is editor of and is collaborating with Malalai Joya on her forthcoming book A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice, to be published by Scribner in the fall.

Derrick O'Keefe

Derrick O'Keefe

Derrick O'Keefe is a writer in Vancouver, B.C. He served as's editor from 2012 to 2013 and from 2008 to 2009.