New York, NY
Women and children refugees will bear the brunt of the humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan and Pakistan, unless the world community acts immediately to protect their basic rights and well-being, warns the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children.
"Experience with past refugee crises has shown us that unless the rights of women, adolescents and children are respected and their needs taken into account, lives will be lost and future reconstruction and peace-building made all the more difficult," said Mary Diaz, Executive Director for the Women's Commission. "In Afghanistan last year children froze to death in sub-zero temperatures. Winter is coming and families have no place to shelter."
In a series of recommendations released today, the Women’s Commission urges the United Nations and the world community to move swiftly to address the needs of women and children in Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the US and its allies gear up for military action, some 1.5 million people are expected to leave their homes. The city of Jalalabad has already lost 65 percent of its population as frightened families flee to rural areas. Most of them are women and children whose unequal status under the Taliban regime has exacerbated their poor health. Afghan women are excluded from basic healthcare and are unable to work to support their children. Male relatives have been killed, leaving women vulnerable to rape and forced prostitution.
The Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children urges the international community to build refugee camps as far from armed conflict as possible to ensure that food reaches families and not combatants. Children need special attention as they may be recruited into the military, sexually abused or separated from their families; the Women’s Commission recommends UN immediately deploy child protection advisers. Women should be actively involved in decisions about refugee sites and other humanitarian programs, particularly Afghan women’s groups who have taken great risks to build women’s education and healthcare despite threats from the Taliban.
Implementation of these recommendations will require strong political and financial support for the United Nations from the United States and its allies, but will ultimately lead to more stability in a region undermined by years of conflict, the Women’s Commission said.
"Time is of the essence to address the humanitarian crisis that is already underway in Pakistan and Afghanistan," said Sippi Azerbaijani-Moghadam, technical adviser for the Women's Commission, who has worked with women in the region for more than five years. "Many lives are at risk. By promoting development and stability and by targeting women and children, the world community can lay the foundations for reconciliation and reconstruction in the future."
Editor’s note: For more information or a complete copy of the recommendations, please contact Rachel Watson, Media Liaison, Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children:
Sippi Azerbaijani-Moghadam, technical adviser on gender for the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children, is available for interview. Based in Peshawar, Pakistan until she was evacuated mid-September, Sippi travelled frequently to camps and remote villages under Taliban control to investigate conditions for women and children, and to recommend solutions to the abuses she uncovered.