Celebrating International Women’s Day with Afghan refugee women

Afghanistan, Pakistan

March 22, 2018

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  • PHOTO: Mercy Corps team

In places like Balochistan, Pakistan, life is governed by a strict set of beliefs and societal norms. Often a woman has no say in any aspect of her life, including her marriage. Young women have even less say in other life choices, including education. Early, non-consensual marriages and domestic violence are common. Girls lack access to and control of resources in both host and refugee communities in Balochistan.

Pakistan also hosts more than 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees, of which an estimated 20 percent are in Balochistan province. Seventy four percent of the Afghan refugees are younger than 24 years old and have limited access to formal education.

Mercy Corps Pakistan has been working with Afghan refugees since 1986 when we first responded to their humanitarian needs. Through a Department of State-funded program we are currently promoting safe, dignified and equitable access to quality education for young Afghan refugees girls and boys in urban Quetta. Our work also aims to improve the quality of education for adolescents with specific protection needs in both refugee and host communities.

The program has so far identified and enrolled 1,000 Afghan refugee children in formal schools and 427 Afghan refugee children in non-formal schools. The program works with the community education committees, Afghan consulate and Afghan school teachers’ association to plan localized awareness campaigns to promote girls’ education and to convey key information about school enrollment in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. It also aims to increase awareness and life skills of in school and out of school young people.

For International Women's Day Mercy Corps organized two community-based events at Hazara town and Bashir Chowk, Quetta to further help women and girls in these communities build better lives. More than 100 women participated, including many refugees.

These events were organized to demonstrate to attendees the importance of women's roles in families' daily routines within and outside the houses, as well as their right to equal opportunities in their daily lives. The events raised awareness around issues such as violence against women and gender inequality. Afghan refugee women also had a chance to share their views and experiences, and girls recited poems themed around women’s rights and gender equality. Several role-play scenarios highlighted women’s rights and issues they face in their daily lives as well.

“It was the best opportunity for them to be aware of [the] importance of women,” says one of the participants.

These events were organized in collaboration and coordination with UNHCR and other main stakeholders.