More than 2 million Afghans are living as refugees in Pakistan and Iran with the vast majority consisting of widowed women and children. Large numbers of Afghans who seek refuge in Pakistan seek educational opportunities for their family especially women and girls. Since 1996, when the Taliban militia took control of Kabul, women in areas under Taliban rule have been oppressed by a strict system of gender apartheid, under which they have been stripped of their visibility, voice and mobility. The edicts imposed by the Taliban, which have been brutally enforced, banished most women from the work force, closed schools to girls in cities and expelled women from universities, and prohibited women from leaving their homes unless accompanied by a close male relative.
However, current conditions of most refugee camps in Pakistan offer little remedy. Basic life sustaining elements such as food and water are provided through emergency relief efforts led mostly by the United Nations (UN). Afghan refugees living in refugee camps remain fearful of possible threats to their security while living in camps. The severe drought that has devastated Afghanistan has also impacted the surrounding region including Pakistan forcing conditions inside of refugee camps to worsen. One widowed woman living in a refugee camp in Pakistan commented, "we get water from a very place and sometimes at home we do not have water or even flour to cook with. One of my sons spends all his time fetching water and so I can't send him to school." The severe drought is forcing many refugee children to become malnourished and face other serious health problems. UN officials have voiced their concern of the safety of the Afghan refugees who "have no guarantees about conditions back in their villages but say they have had enough in Pakistan and [they] just want to get back home." The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Sadako Ogato reiterated that the priority of the UN is to ensure the sustainability of those Afghans returning to their homeland. In addition, refugees living in the cities of Pakistan also face abhorrent conditions and receive almost no assistance from UNHCR. The majority of refugees who have fled the Taliban are ethnic minorities who face hostility in camps and seek refuge in the cities of Pakistan instead.
Media Resources: BBC News 20 September 2000, Asia Times 22 September 2000, Feminist Majority Foundation's Campaign To Stop Gender Apartheid In Afghanistan