Afghanistan: Peace and Security Undermined—Targeting of Women Leaders

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1 Dec 2008

Malalai JoyaOn 21 May 2007 Malalai Joya, a woman Member of Parliament (MP) and defender of women’s rights, was suspended from the Afghan parliament for strongly criticizing warlord fellow MPs and comparing them in a television interview to being worse than a stable of animals. Her suspension was against the Wolesi Jirga’s (Lower House of Parliament) Rules of Procedure, which only allow for a one day suspension or for suspension for a further unspecified number of days if requested by the Administrative Board and approved by the Wolesi Jirga. This procedure was not followed. In addition, Malalai Joya has been widely reported as having been threatened with rape and murder by fellow MPs yet to date no action has been taken against any MP for threats made against Malalai.

Women in public life are being increasingly targeted for defending human rights and taking a public role in society in Afghanistan, such as Commander Malalai Kakar, Afghanistan’s most senior policewoman, who was shot dead outside her home on 28 September 2008. Commander Kakar was head of Kandahar city's department on crimes against women and her adherence to the rule of law in combating violence against women resulted in daily threats and a number of attempts on her life before she was fatally gunned down. On 25 September 2006 Safia Ama Jan, the southern provincial head of Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs, was murdered outside the front gate of her Kandahar home. Like Malalai Joya, fellow woman MP Shukria Barakzai has also been targeted with death threats. Her office has been attacked a number of times and it has been reported that her name is included on a list which also included the name of Commander Kakar as a target for assassination. In June 2007 two women journalists were murdered with many others receiving death threats.

Malalai Kakar (deceased)Increasingly schools for girls have been forced to close after being attacked. In November 2008 suspected Taliban militants used water pistols to spray acid on teachers and girls walking to school in Kandahar. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) states that, as of mid-November 2008, there have been 256 violent school incidents resulting in some 58 deaths and 46 injuries.

Since the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, women have been calling for equal rights and highlighting the need for human security. Yet those who assert these rights, such as Malalai Joya, continue to be threatened, abused and even killed.

Equality Now’s campaign for the reinstatement of Malalai Joya led to a referral of her case from parliamentarians from around the world to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)—the international organization of parliaments of sovereign states around the world. The IPU initially met to discuss Malalai’s suspension in October 2007 when it deemed her case admissible. A public resolution by the IPU’s Governing Council followed in April 2008 which stated that freedom of expression is a fundamental tenet of democracy and that the suspension of the parliamentary mandate was an exceptionally serious measure which must be taken in strict compliance with the law. The IPU continues to follow Malalai’s case and its Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians met again on 11 October 2008 to press for Malalai’s reinstatement. The session was also attended by a delegation of senior Afghan officials, including the Deputy Speaker of the Wolesi Jirga, Mirwas Yasini, who admitted that Malalai’s suspension was against parliamentary norms and should not have happened. This reflects also the comments of Mr. Gul Padshan Majedi, chair of Afghanistan’s parliamentary Committee on Immunity and Privileges of Members of Parliament, who is reported to have stated that Malalai Joya’s suspension was unlawful. The Deputy Speaker also confirmed that no action had been taken against any other MP for disparaging remarks made against Malalai or for calling for her to be raped and murdered. He maintained that every effort would be made to restore Malalai Joya’s parliamentary mandate before the end of the parliamentary session—that is the beginning of December 2008. To date however, Malalai has not been contacted by any representative from parliament to discuss her reinstatement and her lawyer has been prevented from going to Parliament to speak with the Deputy Speaker. The IPU has stressed that suspension for an entire parliamentary term is tantamount to a revocation of the parliamentary mandate and is wholly unlawful, especially in a case only of using insulting language.

Malalai herself took her case to the Supreme Court in an attempt to challenge her suspension and ensure that procedure was followed. However, it was several months before the Supreme Court responded and even now it is unclear whether serious legal action has been initiated to address Malalai’s suspension. Parliament has yet to respond to papers sent by the Court requesting that Parliament assign a representative to respond to Malalai’s case.

Afghanistan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in March 2003 and adopted a new Constitution in January 2004, which provides for equal rights for women and men before the law and protects freedom of speech. However, women continue to be violently targeted in Afghanistan and denied equal rights and equal protection of the law and Malalai Joya remains suspended from parliament. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 recognizes the critical role of women in promoting peace and security and calls for increased representation of women in decision-making. Malalai Joya was duly elected to Parliament and has been consistently and courageously speaking out for human rights, recognizing that respect for human rights is fundamental to peace and security. Her suspension undermines democracy in Afghanistan and is a violation of her rights, as well as the rights of those she represents.

What You Can Do: 

Please write to the following officials to urge them to ensure that Malalai Joya is immediately and unconditionally reinstated to Parliament. Point out that Parliament is in breach both of its own Rules of Procedure and of Afghanistan’s Constitution which provides for freedom of speech and women’s equality. Ask them also to take all steps to guarantee the personal safety of Malalai Joya, Shukria Barakzai and all others seeking to protect and promote the full equal rights of women as provided by the Constitution.

Sample letter to Afghan officials

President Hamid Karzai
Gul Khana Palace
Presidential Palace
Kabul, Afghanistan

Yunus Qanooni, Speaker of the House
Afghanistan National Assembly
Wolesi Jirga
Kabul, Afghanistan

Women's Action 21.1: October 2001
Women's Action 21.2: April 2002
Women's Action 21.3: December 2004
Women's Action 21.4: December 2006
Women's Action 21.5: October 2007