The women of Afghanistan find a leader

August temperatures in Farah Province, on the border with Iran, can hit 50 C, beating residents into a submissive slouch. But on a Friday in Farah’s capital, the offices of Malalai Joya, who is running for parliament, crackle with life. All activity focuses on a woman who is slumped in a chair, her head bowed and the side of her face swollen. Her mouth hangs slack and her tongue worries at her crooked teeth.

“This is the women of Afghanistan,” says Joya. She pulls off the woman’s black veil, exposing a nest of hair and blood about the size of a golf ball on the top of her head. Another bloody clump sits just behind her right ear. Joya then peels off the woman’s clothes, revealing a lacerated right arm, bruised left leg and parallel marks slashing a thin breast. Only when Joya tugs at the woman’s trousers does she grunt and cover herself.

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