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Afghans Prepare for Presidential Elections

As Afghanistan prepares to hold presidential elections later this month, issues such as security, corruption and lack of economic development are at the forefront. But many say one key promise seems to have been forgotten - improving the rights of women. Veteran Afghan women's rights advocate, Malalai Joya, made the case recently during a visit to London.

In London, Malalai Joya is free. Free of her burqua, free to gaze from a window without fear of being shot, and free to speak her mind on the issue of women's rights in Afghanistan.

Joya is here to promote her memoir, "Raising My Voice". It documents her life from when her family was forced to flee Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, to the present day. She says her generation has only ever known war.

She brings out a photo of young girls going to school in Kabul in the 1960s. She says women then had more freedom than they do now. She says the fight for women's rights and against government corruption must continue.

"You know, the truth itself is enough to give me hope, power, determination," said Joya. "Also, the suffering of these poor suffering people of my country, innocent people of my and women."

VOA first met with Joya last year in Kabul - after an arduous drive through the city with Joya's bodyguards directing every move to make sure no one was following and the meeting would be safe. Here, she wears her burqua.

"Most of the women are wearing burqa just to be safe. I wear burqa because of security," she said.

Joya has reasons for ensuring her security. Besides five assassination attempts, she was ousted from the Afghan parliament in 2007 - where she sat as its youngest elected member - on charges of insulting the parliament.

Still, she refuses to be silenced. "The silence of good people is worse than the actions of bad people," said Joya.

It's images like these motivate Joya. She says Afghanistan's women and children are suffering the most.

These photos, taken by the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, document an increasing and frightening trend of self-immolation, or suicide by fire, among Afghan women.

"They don't have a human life. Situation is like hell for them, as there is no justice," said Joya.

Afghanistan will go to the polls later this month but Joya says she has no confidence a truly democratic government will be elected.

And, it has become increasingly difficult for people like Joya to speak out. Many, including journalists, have paid with their lives.

Joya says she knows she could be next. "I don't fear death. I fear political silence against injustice," she said.

Malalai Joya says if the fight for women's rights does cost her her life, there are many young, brave women in Afghanistan who will carry on her fight for freedom.