Author: Malalai Joya
It was only towards the end of the book that it dawned on me how difficult of a task it’s going to be for me to review it. The difficulty of my work lied not in finding words sufficient enough to produce a body of work – which I will boldly call my review, but it lied in producing a body of work worthy enough to fully make known the brilliance that this book excudes. I believe that in any epoch a reader is blessed to come across work of such brilliance only a few times in their lives, and that it would take a lot of courage for such a reader to even attempt to produce work worthy enough to be classified as its review. Courage which the reader will not only need to produce this review, but courage he/she will also needs to put out this review for public scruitiny.
Courage is the one of the main commodities that separates the extraordinary from the ordinary, the leaders from the followers and the game-changers from ordinary participants. It was courage that saw a young woman, Malalai Joya – who was forced to move out of her country of birth, Afghanistan, at the age of four to join her refuged father and moved between two countries, Iran and Pakistan respectively, as a refugee herself – return to her home country and become the youngest person to be elected into a parliament filled with warlords who would love to see nothing more than her demise. It is this courage that made her continue fighting against these tyrants – who continue to plague her country with sectarian and fundamentalist influenced leadership – and even put her life on the line to see her people liberated.
Raising My Voice is an autobiographical book that tells the story of Malalai Joya. Born in the small village of Ziken on 25 April 1978, Malalai Joya (real surname unknown) moved from Afghanistan to Iran as a child to live with her father outside of the refugee camp in Zahedan to escape the war back home. When she turned seven, and was overdue to go to school, she and her family moved out of Iran and into Pakistan because the Iranians didn’t allow Afghan children to attend their schools or develop their own education system. When she turned 14 years she moved back to Farah “for a brief period of time” only to move back to Pakistan after a couple of months because of the deterioration of the situation back home. After completing her grade 12 and was unable to further he studies in Pakistan because financial reasons, she joined the Organisation for Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities (OPAWC) and went back to Afghanistan, into the Herat Province, to start classes for girls in defiance of the Taliban and its edicts.
Even though the book is an autobiography of Malalai Joya’s life, the magnificence of this book lies in Malalai’s ability to infuse in it, together with her life story, the stories of the thousands and thousands of people – both Afghans and non-Afghans – that have helped her on her continuing journey towards the establishment of a democracy and women’s rights in Afghanistan, she has also included the lives of those she has spent a majority of her life fighting for. In the book Malalai tells stories about the struggles she has had to face, most of which she still faces today, as a young social activist, and she also gives appreciation to all those who continue to help her on her journey towards achieving her goal of seeing the women and people of Afghanistan liberated, despite the dangers involved. In this book Malalai has, in a way that I can only describe as magnificent, managed to make clear to the rest of the word the injustices that the people of Afghanistan face under the current government: which is posed as a democratic victory for the people of Afghanistan by the media. She has managed to show how by keeping the same people who ruled over Afghanistan during its war torn past in power, the US-led democratic dispensation has done nothing but given these warlords impunity from prosecution for the deeds of their past.
The book has multiple chapters detailing different sections of her life but a chapter to look forward to reading is chapter three. In this chapter she details the struggles she went through developing the underground schools and all the close encounters she had with the Taliban – who made her job even harder. She relates the events of those days without involving herself too much in her narration, and she does this by constantly reminding us that those events were not, and continue to not be, isolated incidents that only happened to her, but were a norm for the people of Afghanistan. She managed to write her autobiography and conceal in the same pages the biographies of ordinary people living in Afghanistan and beyond, and I believe that this is the special ingredient that makes this book as powerful as I believe it is.
In the book she described how at the age of twenty five, and without the support of the government, she managed to unite the people in the Farah province by opening a clinic that offered free services – including a free ambulance – to the people of the province, and an orphanage for the orphaned children in the province. She describes how even though she was the head of the clinic, and one of the main people in the orphanage, the people of the province were the ones who made the clinic and the orphanage run as very well as they did (which was again a fine way of telling the story of her people while telling hers). She also describes the difficulties she faced as a young woman at the Loya Jirga (which translates to “grand assembly”) and the difficulties she faced after her controversial 90 seconds speech on the assembly’s podium. She shows how, because of the false reports about what was happening in Afghanistan, people have been led to falsely believe that the situation in Afghanistan had improved because of the pseudo-democratic elections that led her being elected to become a Member of Parliament. One of the powerful messages she always tries to put forward through the stories she tells about the instances where people have helped her overcome some of the problems and dangers she faced is regarding her firm belief in people working together to solve the ills they face in the world, and she shows this by constantly reminding the reader that the power of people working together can be like the power of God – “nothing can stop it.”
A chapter that I really enjoyed reading was Chapter 12: “A Bird With One Wing” where Malalai describes the history of the role of women in the struggle for democracy and women’s rights in Afghanistan. She tells stories of the different women she has come across, and continues to come across, whose stories have shaped the history of the fight for women’s rights in both Afghanistan and the rest of the world, stories about women who had to commit suicide because they saw no other way out of their struggles, stories of how even though the popular narrative is that the American invasion of Afghanistan has positively impacted the fight for women’s rights in the country, the opposite can be said to be true.
This book is a must read not only for those who are interested in the development of women’s rights in the world, but it is also a must read for those who have lost hope in humanity; because within these pages are stories that will remind you what Ubuntu is really about. Get yourself a copy and be inspired by the perseverance of the human spirit, get yourself a copy because I promise you won’t regret it.