CARLSBAD — Malalai Joya, one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, is winding up her national 11-city tour in San Diego this month. The author of “A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan Who Dared to Raise Her Voice” is scheduled to address crowds from Wellesley College and NYU to Stanford, UC Berkeley and UCSD.
Thanks to Encinitas resident Carol Jahnkow, local residents will also be able to listen to Joya’s story when she speaks at 7 p.m., Oct. 21 at the Al Awda Center, 2720 Loker Avenue West, Suite J, Carlsbad.
“I really wanted to see more programs like this in North County, and took responsibility for finding a venue here,” said Jahnkow, director, Emertis of the Peace Resource Center of San Diego and founder of the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice.
Joya was only 4 in 1982 when her family fled Afghanistan to the refugee camps of Iran and then Pakistan. She finished her education in Pakistan and at 19 began teaching literacy courses to other women. After the Soviets withdrew in 1998, she returned to Afghanistan where she established an orphanage and health clinic. Soon she became an outspoken opponent of the Taliban who had seized control of the country.
Joya gained international prominence in December 2003 when, as an elected delegate to the Constitutional Loya Jirga, she spoke out publicly against the domination of warlords. Subsequently, she was elected to the 249-seat National Assembly as a representative of Farah Province, winning by the second highest number of votes.
Today, she is married and heads the non-governmental group Organisation of Promoting Afghan Women’s Capabilities (OPAWC).
Jahnkow said that the fact that she is in San Diego County for the 12th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan is poignant in that many of the country’s problems are due to the continued military presence.
“The occupation by both U.S. and NATO troops has resulted in more bloodshed, more crimes against women, more human rights violations and more looting of their resources by the Americans,” she explained. “The people of Afghanistan believe their country has been changed into a mafia state because during those 12 years tens of thousands have been killed by occupation forces and terrorists groups such as the Taliban and warlords.”
Even more destructive to society, Jahnkow said, is the fact that Afghanistan has become the center of the drug trade. More than 90 percent of opium in the world is produced in Afghanistan.
“This is more dangerous than the Taliban and warlords because it destroys life in Afghanistan,” she explained. “Today, about 2 million people are addicted to opium, mostly women and children. The fact that they can make money from opium has led to corruption.”
She added that the Taliban had a ban on opium from 1994 to 2000, prior to the invasion.
“When they were kicked out it opened the door for opium to come back,” she said.
The Peace Resource Center of San Diego formed the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice in anticipation of retaliation after the U.S. invasion on Oct. 7, 2001. The group created a dialogue by inviting others to address what they thought was going to happen next.
For Joya, that eventually meant that her safety and well-being would become more uncertain as she continued to stand tall and voice her opinions.
“Since 2004, there have been seven reported assassination attempts on Malalai’s life, and two of her bodyguards have been shot,” said Rick Greenblatt of the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice. “In Afghanistan, she is forced to live in safe houses, and wear a burqa on the street so that she is not recognized. She’s playing a serious game here and she is not playing for low stakes. She’s putting her life on the line.”
The presentation is sponsored by the Peace Resource Center of San Diego, San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice and the Al Awda Center who is hosting the event.
The tour is sponsored by the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC) and the Afghan Women’s Mission. There is no charge for admission; donations will underwrite the cost of continuing Joya’s work. Books will be available for purchase. For more information, visit sdcpj.org or call (760) 390-0775.