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Afghanistan Refugees

I was very pleased to see Mark Fineman’s piece on Afghan refugee women fighting for equal rights (Part I, Feb. 12).

I was in Peshawar in June of last year as the only female member of the Citizens Commission for Afghan Refugees and visited Tajwar Kakar at her school. I talked to the brave young teen-age girls who told me they hope to return to Afghanistan and be “judges, engineers, pilots and doctors.” Their country needs them desperately, since the illiteracy rate of women is well over 90%.

It was my visit with Tajwar Kakar and dinner with her impressive family which helped me to realize how poorly the Afghan refugee women have been served by the international aid agencies during their 10 years as refugees in Pakistan. Mrs. Kakar runs the only school for young Afghan women refugees in Pakistan. It exists solely because of her energy in founding it, and not because the international organizations made a conscientious effort to support education for young Afghan women. It was a joy to meet the young women who were thriving in her school.

One month ago, a group of women, who were concerned that too much planning and program funding were taking place without a perspective on the needs of women, formed the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. It will exist to see that when programs are funded for the refugees as they return to Afghanistan, money is set aside to educate women to enable them to participate as literate citizens in their society.

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Even as you read this, Dr. Cynthia Haq of the Dartmouth Medical School faculty is making the first survey visit on behalf of the Women’s Commission in Peshawar. She will meet with the international agencies to find out how the billions for rebuilding Afghanistan will be spent. And hopefully when she returns the Women’s Commission will join her in seeing that the brave Afghan women who have suffered in exile will not be denied their human rights on their return to Afghanistan.

CATHERINE O’NEILL

Co-Founder, Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children

Washington, D.C.

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