In Parliament, Afghani Women Stand Up, Refuse to Be Silent

The 249-seat Afghanistan House of Representatives, or the Wolesi Jirga, held session this week. It was the first time in over 3 decades that a parliament had met in war-torn Afghanistan. And, in attendance… Women. Some old, some young, some with tortured pasts, and one who was not afraid to confront past sins of the warlords!

All of the women carried a hope for their country, for the future of women in a land where women had long been treated as property or objects, and,… all came with the great courage!

Her campaign symbol was two fluffy bunny rabbits. Parliament member, Sabrina Saqeb plays basketball and is on the Afghanistan Olympic Committee.

*Afghan Lord*, the blogger who covered the elections so well in September, couldn’t help but notice the startling difference in posters of 26 year old basketball star turned politician, Sabrina Saqeb. Sabrina said her colorful posters were representative of the hope the youth carry with them in Afghanistan. English speaking Sabrina was elected in as the youngest member in Parliament.



The beautiful Sabrina Saqeb was blasted by hardliners before the election for “driving men to sin”. She is a talented basketball player and plays on the Afghani womens Olympic team and is fluent in English:

The smooth complexion, white teeth and smile of a professional model stare down at passers-by from shop fronts and billboards across Kabul, creating something of a stir in this conservative Muslim environment. These are not ads for cosmetics – they are campaign posters for Sabrina Saqeb, who at 26 says she is the youngest candidate standing for the Afghan parliament.

The posters have been quite a success. Children are doing a brisk business selling them for 10 afghanis (about 20 cents) apiece down on Chicken Street.

Saqeb’s image stands in stark contrast to most other female candidates’ campaign photos, which show them stolidly staring into the camera. But she says she knows what she is doing.

“I am younger than the other candidates, and I want people to know it. It was my choice to wear a yellow scarf in my posters. Other women candidates have dark scarves on their heads, which implies that there is still misfortune in the country. I wanted a bright colour,” she said.

Returning to Afghanistan with her family in 2004, she began working for the People in Need Foundation as director of health, education and handicrafts. She also serves as honorary secretary general for the National Basketball Federation, a sport she plays enthusiastically, and as a member of the national Olympic committee.

Sabrina’s family has been supportive and has funded her campaign. In addition to 10,000 posters, she has printed 30,000 leaflets and 10,000 cards. She is tireless, going from house to house in search of votes.

Her platform is simple – she wants to “serve the young generation and solve the problems of Afghan women” once she gets into parliament. And she has a very specific electorate in mind – the young.

Shukria was whipped in public by the Taliban. She never forgot it.

The humiliation of that public flogging drove Shukria into politics!

When Shukria Barakzai was whipped by the Taleban’s religious police for being out on a Kabul street without a male chaperone, she went home and cried for two days.

But the memory of that humiliation steeled her to go into politics and stand for a seat in the Afghan parliament. It also lies behind her campaign slogan, “Rights and Justice”, as she works to win one of Kabul’s 33 seats, and in the pleasure she takes from her gentle election symbol, a bunch of flowers.

Barakzai is an independent with no links with any political party. “From everything I hear, all the parties are divided on the basis of language, tribe, beliefs and other issues. A party that can actually represent the people of Afghanistan does not exist,” she told IWPR.

Married with three daughters, Barakzai keeps open house for journalists at her comfortable home, in Wazir Akbar Khan in Kabul’s upmarket District 10.

She says she is not particularly fond of politics, but can still vividly recall the event the propelled her into the current race.

“During the Taleban period, I was sick and I had gone to a doctor together with my female neighbour. On the way back home, two Taleban men appeared and beat me with a whip, making me very angry.

“I asked them, “Why the hell are you doing this? You can see I am veiled.

“They told me I didn’t have a close male relative with me, to which I replied that he was out of the house from morning till night to get food.”

In the Taleban era, Barakzai worked secretly as a teacher with an association called the Asian Women’s Society.

After the Taleban were driven out of Kabul in late 2001, she started Aina-ye-Zan, or Women’s Mirror, a weekly newspaper where she still works. She also sat on the commission which drafted the Afghan constitution.

Defying hardliners, Malalai Joya refused to sit down this week in parliament.

Member of the parliament Malalai Joya holds a copy of the holy Koran after the inauguration of the first Afghan parliament in decades in Kabul, Afghanistan December 19, 2005. Warlords, former communists, Taliban defectors and women activists were sworn in on Monday as members of the first Afghan parliament in more than 30 years amid hopes of national reconciliation after decades of bloodshed. (REUTERS/Ahmad Masoodd)


Robert Mayer at Publius Pundit wrote more on this confrontation earlier this week.

One woman delegate did the unthinkable this week. She attacked the Afghan war lords elected to parliament!

Malali Joya, a delegate, called for all of Afghanistan’s human rights abusers and “criminal warlords” to be brought to justice. Delegates responded by pounding their fists on the tables to demand she sit down. She r
efused, shouting that it was her right as an elected official to speak.

Here are the courageous words of Malalai Joya as she confronted the warlords elected to parliament this week:

“My name is Malali Joya from Farah Province. By the permission of the esteemed attendees, and by the name of God and the colored-shroud martyrs, I would like to speak for couple of minutes.

My criticism on all my compatriots is that why are they allowing the legitimacy and legality of this Loya Jerga come under question with the presence of those felons who brought our country to this state.

I feel pity and I feel very sorry that those who call Loya Jerga an infidel basis equivalent to blasphemy after coming here their words are accepted, or please see the committees and what people are whispering about. The chairman of every committee is already selected. Why do you not take all these criminals to one committee so that we see what they want for this nation. These were those who turned our country into the nucleus of national and international wars. They were the most anti-women people in the society who wanted to who brought our country to this state and they intend to do the same again. I believe that it is a mistake to test those already being tested. They should be taken to national and international court. If they are forgiven by our people, the bare-footed Afghan people, our history will never forgive them. They are all recorded in the history of our country.”

You can find out how to help support Malalai Joya by going to the Defend Malalai Joya site that was just recently created. There is a guest book that you can sign to show your support for Malalai. Please don’t forget the brave women of Afghanistan.

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