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Lessons from Malalai Joya, Afghanistan's Feminist Voice

In a country where some consider being born a woman a capital offense, Malalai Joya is the epitome of bravery. An Afghani woman, Joya has overcome hardship, loss and great obstacles and yet has never given up on her quest to make the world a better place.

One of ten children, Malalai Joya was a newborn when the British invaded Afghanistan. Lead by her mother, she and her siblings fled to a refugee camp. As Joya grew older, she learned how to read and subsequently taught all those around her the joys of literacy, including her old mother. She was later smuggled back into Afghanistan to help start schools for local girls.

After 9/11, Afghanistan was left in shambles under the control of warlords. Joya knew this was morally, socially, and politically wrong and began to advocate for the people of her country. In 2005, Malali Joya became the youngest person ever elected to the Afghani parliament, but was later kicked out for her brutal honesty about the current situation of the government.

Malalai Joya is married, although has never publicly been seen or announced the name of her husband for fear of him being murdered. She always travels with multiple bodyguards and wears a burqa, a traditional Muslim symbol for modesty. In 2009, she wrote a memoir titled Raising My Voice. It is no wonder then, as a Rising Voices Fellow, that I felt inspired to pay homage to Malalai Joya in this post.           

Although the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has often made it seem otherwise, Islam and Judasim are much more similar than one would think. Both are traditionally male dominated religions that are based around one holy text. Both religions have struggled in the evolution to be more gender inclusive, and as a result, women on both sides have felt put down and discriminated against by their own faiths. As a Jewish feminist, I feel empowered by Malalai Joya. Her unwavering courage and drive to help those around her even while putting herself at great risk should be a lesson to us all. Joya’s work sends the message that some issues are worth taking risks for, and equality is one of those.

In the future, as the fight for gender equality continues and circumstances arise in which we have the option to either put ourselves out there or step back and let someone else do the fighting, let us take Malalai’s action as an example. As a Jewish feminist blogger, it is my job to speak up for both the Jewish people and women from all walks of life. Though my circumstances are radically different from hers, Malalai Joya is a role model for me and for women everywhere who strive to “raise their voices.”  

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Malalai Joya, February 19, 2007
Full image
Malalai Joya speaks at a girls school in Farah Province in Western Afghanistan, February 19, 2007.
Courtesy of Wikimedia.
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How to cite this page

Sinclair, Maya. "Lessons from Malalai Joya, Afghanistan's Feminist Voice." 12 March 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 18, 2018) <>.


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