I just left a talk by Dawn Calabia, senior advisor at Refugees International on the situation of refugees in Afghanistan. Sponsored by the Womens Foreign Policy Group, the talk brought together a diverse group to hear about Dawns November 2010 three week trip to Afghanistan to look at what is happening with refugees, especially those who have returned from Pakistan and Iran.
By way of background, Afghanistan is a country of 29 million people, and since President Karzai took office, about 5.6 million Afghan refugees have returned to the country. The country has a per capita income of between $800-$1,000; life expectancy of 44 years and the second highest infant mortality rate in the world. While 6 million children are in school a vast improvement over the past 6 years another 6 million are not, and Dawn reported seeing kids walking to school carrying their own chairs so they would have something to sit on during class. Dawn reported on a country that is making progress but still having a hard time with shelter for refugees as well as providing economic opportunity for its citizens.
I was particularly struck by what she reported on women. She reported that many women felt proud of the progress that had been made, especially in sending girls to school, but that it is an uphill battle, and there are concerns about the resurgence of the Taliban. Many felt that living in cities afforded them some more freedoms, although as Dawn noted, wearing a burka does not mean that women dont also want their rights. For example, in the parliamentary election, 264 women attended a candidate training school sponsored by NDI, and were willing to campaign and be photographed.
I felt like I had made a quick trip to Afghanistan and thank Dawn for taking me there.