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Afghan Women: Strength Amid Adversity

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I AM an Afghan refugee woman. Eleven years ago I fled persecution and house arrest to seek asylum in the United States. Recently, I visited the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. For the first time in over a decade, I had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the Khyber Pass. I was only a few miles from my country yet unable to return. In the midst of enormous tragedy - 3 million Afghans forced to live in exile - I found much hope for human dignity, resilience, and survival. The key to this hope is found with Afghan refugee women.

The trip to Pakistan was organized by the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, under the auspices of the International Rescue Committee - the largest United States voluntary agency working with refugees in Pakistan. Our delegation traveled during an unusually difficult time. Efforts to help refugee women and girls were under attack by unknown men, hostile toward the development of programs for women.

Afghan women working in humanitarian aid programs were told to quit their jobs. One Afghan nurse was found murdered, and many other women were threatened with death and abduction. Personally, I was expecting to find much despair and desolation. On the contrary, both rural and urban Afghan women remain fiercely committed to their struggle for survival and to preserve their roles within their society.

Despite volatile political circumstances, Afghan refugee women are the catalysts who will pave the path to peace and reconstruction. They are not deterred by threats and risks to their lives, and they are courageously continuing their work, unwilling to slip into passivity. They are keenly aware of the importance of their work whether it be teaching in a high school for girls, developing income-generating and skills-training programs, or teaching literacy to an adult population that remains over 95 percent illiterate.

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