Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Promoting Economic Self-Reliance: A Case Study of Afghan Refugee Women in Pakistan

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Promoting Economic Self-Reliance: A Case Study of Afghan Refugee Women in Pakistan

Article excerpt

There are approximately 18.5 million refugees in the world. Of these, 75 to 80 percent are women and children.(1) Many refugee women head their families; their husbands are in the military, are in cities or other countries seeking employment or have been killed. As heads of households, they have the responsibility of providing basic needs for their families while in exile and seeking durable solutions.

However, the typical refugee woman faces many problems and has limited options. Her special needs must be fully understood by the international community. Successful programs involving refugee women only recently have begun to evolve. For example, women are being taught income-generating skills like bicycle repair and carpentry. When refugee women are empowered to self-support their families, the entire refugee community benefits.

Economic self-reliance is "the capacity of refugees to provide for their own economic support and the support of their families."(2) The first section of this article describes the situation and needs faced by refugee women along with projects designed for self-reliance. The second section examines the situation of Afghan refugee women in Pakistan and the response by the international community. Due to the large number of Afghan women refugees, their long residence in Pakistan, and the beginning of their return to Afghanistan, many lessons can be learned from their full story. The final section evaluates the progress made in promoting economic self-sufficiency for refugee women and offers some recommendations.

BACKGROUND: REFUGEE WOMEN

Special Needs of Women

Refugees in general lack opportunities for employment and income. Most come from developing countries and their flight takes them to neighboring developing countries. There are few opportunities even for the people of the host country, making it difficult for refugees to find employment. The government of the host country may also place restrictions on job opportunities for refugees.

Programs designed especially for refugee women must take into account the cultural and legal constraints they face. Some cultures do not permit women to work outside the home or with men. Programs in these cultures therefore often focus on "traditional" women's activities, such as handicrafts, ceramics, and piecework. Full economic self-support may also be difficult because of restricted legal rights. Refugee women often lack access to markets where they can sell goods, and to the rights of property ownership and free travel within a country. Finally, many are poorly educated and are not trained for skilled labor.

Long-term development is expensive to implement, but the benefits to refugee women greatly outweigh these costs. Increased economic self-reliance has many advantages.(3) First, if refugee women can support themselves, return to their own country or settlement elsewhere will be easier in the long term. A durable solution thus can be reached more easily. Second, if refugees can provide for themselves, the burden to the international community will be eased. Providing opportunities for self-sufficiency costs less than continually satisfying basic needs through assistance programs. Third, the psychological effects of promoting a sense of responsibility improves a refugee woman's self-image and makes it easier for her to deal with her situation. Income-generating programs can further these aims.

Types of Economic Activities

Refugee women can become economically self-reliant in a number of ways. These include: bartering and selling food rations, farming, employment in the local economy, employment with assistance agencies, learning a trade or establishing a small business and participating in formal income-generating projects. In most refugee camps, the principal element of a household's economic survival is the food ration. Food has monetary as well as nutritional value. …

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