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Afghan Women Refugees in Continued Crisis

Acknowledging a healthcare crisis for Afghan women refugees, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has requested $4.5 million for donor countries to provide refugees with reproductive healthcare services including services intended to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Currently, there are over 5 million Afghan refugees outside of Afghanistan in neighboring countries plus millions more displaced within Afghanistan or at the borders. Seventy-five percent of Afghan refugees are women, many of whom are pregnant and some of whom have high-risk pregnancies. According to U.N. agencies, refugee women are also more susceptible to rape and other types of sexual violence which can lead to higher mortality rates, an increase in the spread of STDs, and an increase in unsafe abortions. As reported by healthcare providers in refugee areas, delivering services to Afghan women refugees is hindered by a lack of trained female staff and a lack of facilities in addition to poor funding.

Refugees who have fled to Pakistan face increased instability as protests and rioting have occurred and are expected to continue in Quetta and Peshawar since the U.S. launched military strikes in Afghanistan. Rioters in Quetta torched banks, theaters showing Western films, and the local United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) office. A mob also attempted to invade the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. The violence in Quetta has hampered preparation efforts by U.N. agencies there to assist the thousands of refugees, mostly women and children, expected to cross the borders escaping escalating violence in Afghanistan. Anti-U.S. protestors also destroyed the offices of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, an anti-land mine program, and a women’s development agency in a Pakistani border town. Afrasiab Khattak, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan called the destruction, “a campaign against nongovernmental organizations that identifies them with the West in people’s minds.”

The Feminist Majority has launched a massive campaign aimed at securing more humanitarian aid, the restoration of Afghan women’s rights, and the establishment of a constitutional democracy in Afghanistan. The humanitarian crisis for Afghans predominately affects women and children who lack food, water, shelter, and adequate healthcare services. While the Feminist Majority applauds President Bush’s pledge of $320 million in humanitarian aid, much more is needed to ease the suffering of the innocent Afghan people.

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Media Resources: Washington Post, 10/9/01; Seattle Times, 10/5/01; U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Reproductive Health in Refugee Situations: An Inter-agency Field Manual; Feminist Majority

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