Progressive Women are delighted to welcome Sarah O’Malley of Women for Women International as our guest blogger
The total number of displaced persons living in Afghanistan rose to half a million in 2012, according to a report released by Amnesty International this week. The report, ‘Fleeing War, Finding Misery: The Plight of the Internally Displaced in Afghanistan’, is the result of 3 years of work, including much on the ground research and interviewing. The information it uncovers paints a shocking picture of the life many Afghan citizens lead after fleeing their homes in the wake of ongoing violence in the country.
The report claims that conflict affects more Afghans now than at any point in the last decade, and that as incidents of violence increase, so too do the number of people fleeing their homes. These people make up the 400 people displaced in Afghanistan every day. And this figure is on the increase, with the number of displaced persons increasing year on year since 2008. Hundreds of thousands of people are now living in makeshift shelters around the country, often having nothing more than plastic sheeting and cardboard to protect them from the blistering summer heat and bitterly cold winters. Only last week The Guardian reported the deaths of “dozens of children” in camps outside Kabul, due to the severe cold.
The situation faced by women and children in these camps is amplified by a number of factors, not least of which are health related. Afghanistan already has the world’s worst maternal mortality rate, and for women giving birth in camps their risk of dying during childbirth is even higher. This is not only due to the lack of healthcare facilities, but due to the fact that their access to healthcare is restricted by husbands and male relatives. As one woman, Zarmina, in Kart-e-Parwan, told Amnesty International:
“When women are giving birth, we do it here inside the tent. I had my second child born under this tent, with no medical attention or professional midwife attendance. Our men don’t like us going to the hospital for childbirth until it gets complicated and difficult. They don’t like it because this is not part of our traditions and second because it costs money.
We don’t have to pay for the childbirth itself, but we have to pay for the medicines, drips, and other post-labour care, and we can’t afford it. We also have women who had problems during their pregnancy, including miscarriages, but still couldn’t go to see a doctor because our men can’t afford to pay for the medical care and medicines, which are very costly.”
Shagal, another woman in Kart-e-Parwan, told Amnesty she had suffered three miscarriages since moving to the camp but had never seen a doctor, “There is a mobile clinic that comes once a week, but they are mainly looking into other health issues, not gynaecological health.”
The report also suggests that incidents of domestic violence are higher amongst displaced populations, and that incidents of violence against women in general are higher in camps. Guljan, a woman in her late 50s in Chaman-e-Babrak, told Amnesty:
“I am being harassed by one member of the community because he was trying to force me to marry my daughter to him. I didn’t want this. My daughter is too young—she is 14 years old. She’s going to school. She’s educated; she has a bright future. I don’t want to force her into marriage. Why should I force her to marry someone who lives in a tent? She wants a bright future. Now they are stealing my things, trying to put me in a difficult situation.”
Education is a vital step in women’s empowerment, a fact recognised by women like Guljan around the world. Yet, education is another thing women in displaced communities are being deprived of. This is in part due to a stigma attached to children from camps, and also due to the distances young girls must travel to reach schools. Amnesty report that, “distance from schools is a particular factor for girls’ attendance. One study of primary schools in Ghor found, for example, that girls’ attendance fell 19 percent for every mile (1.6 km) they had to travel to school.”
Afghanistan was named the most dangerous place to be a woman in 2011, and life for displaced women carries a host of additional risks and hardships – a lack of adequate healthcare, sanitation, clean water, food, education, jobs and housing leave women vulnerable in many ways. Amnesty’s report laments the Afghan Government’s failure “to engage with or respond to the needs, immediate and long-term, of its internally displaced population,” and it was widely reported in the wake of the Bonn Conference that many Afghan women feared the gains they have made over the last 10 years being lost if the Taliban return to power. To ensure that the needs of Afghan women are at the forefront of their government and the international community’s agendas, we must stand with them and make sure their voices are heard. It is essential that women have a voice in government and at peace negotiation tables so that their demands are met and sustainable peace is achieved. There are many ways you can support the women fighting to attain this, from sponsoring a woman through Women for Women International and giving her the chance to take part in a year-long programme of rights education and business training, to attending or organising a Join me on the Bridge event on International Women’s Day. Make today the day you take a stand for peace and equality for women around the world, join us!