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Enemies of Happiness

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Helle Faber
Directed by Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem
DVD, color, 59 min.
Jr. High - Adult
Middle Eastern Studies, Gender Studies, Human Rights, Religious Studies, Women's Studies

Reviewed by Kayo Denda, Rutgers University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 12/20/2007

This documentary focuses on Malalai Joya, a remarkable women’s rights activist who was elected to the Afghan Parliament in 2005. Joya gained international attention in 2003, when as an elected delegate to the Loya Jirga which was convened to ratify the Afghan Constitution; she spoke out publicly against the domination of war lords. Since this incident she has survived numerous assassination attempts but continues with the determination to reform Afghanistan’s attitude against gender discrimination.

In the final weeks leading to the first Afghan parliamentary election in thirty five years, the camera follows Joya, the political candidate, as she campaigns tirelessly by meeting with her constituents in her office and traveling around Farah Province, in Southwestern Afghanistan. She takes personal interest in her supporters, including a 100 year old woman who had walked two hours to display her loyalty and to bring a gift of herbal medicine from the village women. Joya also gives counsel about family problems such as poor parents faced with marrying a young daughter to a rich old man, and divorce and child custody issues of couple ravaged by poverty. Her qualities as a charismatic counselor are remarkable in addition to her political commitment, and at times, both qualities seem to resonate equally for the people she represents. The potential for violence is extreme as armed men guard her office compound and follow her movements very closely. The documentary depicts the lack of security in general and danger faced by Joya and others who have the courage to challenge the government and denounce those in position of power.

The film narrates the political trajectory of Joya skillfully, but other nuances add significant value. Joya speaks to the camera on occasion and one of the filmmakers makes an appearance on the screen. This exchange between the subject and the filmmaker, despite being truncated and somewhat tentative, creates moments of intimacy and a personal atmosphere. The dry landscape frames the harsh life of the residents where the lack of basic values and explosive acts of violence that characterize an unjust political system have ravaged the lives of its people. The film brings to the forefront the fact that issues such as women’s rights, forced marriages, lack of security, and patriarchy are still central issues in Afghanistan and other Muslim societies. Highly recommended as a resource for discussions in Middle Eastern studies, gender studies, human rights, religious studies, and women’s studies.