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Promoting economic self-reliance: a case study of Afghan refugee women in Pakistan.

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.


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. The women are responsible for preparing meals for their families and trading food rations or supplementary items for other things they need. They can also earn income from bartering. If other alternatives are not available, refugee women may remain dependent on this form of assistance.(4) While it does not make them self-reliant, it does provide some income.

Agricultural projects, such as gardening or animal husbandry, are often permitted in refugee camps. Many refugee women come from rural areas and were involved in farming in their own countries. Rural agricultural settlements have been established for refugees in Africa, giving families plots of land to farm, and thereby allowing them to attain self-sufficiency.(5) If land is not available for rural settlements, refugee women can grow small gardens next to the dwelling or camp. When the resources were provided, women have been able to grow vegetables to provide additional food and/or income for their families.(6)

Employment in the local economy of the country of refuge can also permit women to earn money. While some countries allow refugees to work within their economies, the laws and policies of the host country generally restrict this alternative. Refugees often seek employment without formal authorization. The informal sector of the economy, especially the service sector, is typically where refugee women find work. For example, a refugee woman can support her family as a domestic or housekeeper. If sufficient opportunities are not available, women often resort to prostitution.(7)

If the host country permits, employment by assistance organizations is coveted, especially in developing countries. These jobs pay more and can open doors to resettlement in a third country. However, the number of positions available is limited, and they usually go to young men. Agencies prefer to hire literate refugees who speak foreign languages. This disqualifies many women. Most refugee women employed by assistance agencies work in the health sector. Because it is more appropriate in many cultures for women to consult with other women about health matters, women can find jobs as birth attendants, home visitors, and in mother/child health programs.(8)

Some women already possess the skills necessary to establish businesses and trading operations on their own. Within the camps and in the surrounding community, refugee women have worked as bakers, cobblers and tailors.(9) Others, however, lack the necessary skills, or were unable to bring the tools of their trade with them when they fled their home countries. Thus, they are often forced to remain on assistance. But if allowed to participate in skills-training programs and if given the necessary resources, these refugees can begin to provide for themselves and their families.(10)

Finally, another opportunity for employment is income-generating projects designed specifically for women by assistance agencies. These include activities that are not considered part of the traditional assistance sectors such as food distribution, health care, education, etc. The availability of funding must be considered when setting up these programs. They should seek to raise the skills level and literacy of the refugee women. Many projects have focused specifically on marginal economic activities such as handicrafts.(11)

Guidelines for Planning and Implementation

Economic projects are classified by Susan Forbes Martin and Joyce Mends-Cole as development-oriented programs, as opposed to relief aid. Development programs take two general forms.(12) First, small-scale projects -- such as health care, employment, and education -- address the needs of refugee women. Second, large-scale projects focus on reforestation, infrastructure development or grander agricultural activities in and for the country of asylum. Along with the special needs of women, several other factors must be considered in advance, if these programs are to work.

An important factor to consider is the extent to which an income-generating project can provide more self-sufficiency than relief projects which offer merely handouts. Unless certain that she will receive at least as much, a refugee will not give up her rations. She must be assured that the alternative will provide her with greater benefits.

In addition, for development-oriented projects to succeed, the mechanisms to implement them must be in place at the beginning of refugee emergencies. Although this may be difficult in spontaneous situations, it must be remembered that the aim is both to save and sustain lives. Durable solutions will be easier to reach if long-term effects are considered.

Finally, the international community must take into account the potential for durable solutions. Refugee agencies and governments will invest fewer resources if it is likely that a refugee will return to her own country, even if the delay is for several years. If refugees can return to their home countries, settle in the country of asylum or resettle in a third country, developing skills for self-reliance becomes more justified.

Forbes Martin and Mends-Cole have outlined the following recommendations: Refugee women must participate in planning (skills assessment, market research, identification of appropriate participants, etc.) and implementing projects; the assistance community must support income-generating activities; economic and legal constraints must be dealt with; and planning must be undertaken before beginning any project.(13) Certain approaches to planning and implementation will further contribute to the success of income- generation projects. These include: clearly defining objectives, having a knowledge of the population and host country, addressing cultural constraints, and undertaking feasibility studies.(14)

Despite the fact that women make up much of the refugee population, the international community has done little to address their special situation and particular needs.(15) International guidelines and instruments pay lip service to the problem, but do not, in practice, adequately distinguish between male and female refugees.

Three major actors dealing with refugee women are international organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and countries that host refugees. This case study of refugee women in Pakistan, focusing on each of these three actors, is meant to cast light on the economic needs of refugee women in general and how the international community has sought to promote economic self-sufficiency. Respectively, the case study examines the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Rescue Committee and the government of Pakistan.


The Crisis

Pakistan has endured several major waves of refugees since its creation in 1947. The most recent massive inflow resulted from a coup and the installation of a pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan. Even before the direct Soviet military involvement in December 1979, 200,000 Afghan refugees were already in Pakistan, having fled following a coup the previous year.(16) The arrival of Soviet troops accelerated the exodus to what would become the world's largest refugee population.

Pakistan has a population of 11.5 million; 1 person in 33 is a refugee.(17) As of 31 December 1991, 3,594,000 refugees were living in Pakistan, 3,591,000 of whom were Afghans.(18) five million Afghans have lived as refugees in Pakistan over the past 15 years.(19) Approximately 28 percent of the Afghan refugees in Pakistan are adult women, 47 percent are children, and 25 percent are adult men. The figure for adult males is actually lower because many men have left to pursue the jihad, or holy war, against the Soviet-backed regime; others work outside the refugee villages.(20)

Some women have lost as many as three generations of male relatives to the jihad. Widows and elderly women are among the most vulnerable. Many of the widows are young mothers with children. Elderly women, who traditionally are taken care of by males in their extended families, have also been left to fend for themselves. Women left without male relatives suffer the most.

A combination of war, culture, politics and religion has forced a stricter version of purdah, the separation of males and females in public, upon Afghan women in the confined environment of refugee villages. This has affected both urban and rural women who rarely had to follow such practices in their homeland. For the first time in their lives, educated, urban women found their activities severely restricted by conservative Afghan tribal leaders and mullahs, or religious leaders. Women accustomed to economic and social freedom challenged these community norms. As a result, they have suffered constant ridicule from Afghan men for holding jobs. The relative freedom of rural life before the flight to Pakistan likewise came to an end. Rural Afghan women, used to living among extended family members, have now been forced to live among large numbers of non-family members in refugee camps. They therefore faced tighter social restrictions.(21)

The restriction on freedom of movement for refugee women has damaged almost every aspect of their lives. Since women are not allowed to associate with non-family males, they have been denied education, health care and social services from anyone other than women. Few indigenous or expatriate women are able to tend to their needs and little help is offered.(22)

The formal income-generating ventures by refugee organizations have also faced these cultural constraints. Attempted projects include carpet weaving, embroidery and handicrafts. Refugee women have participated little, if at all, in large-scale projects. Some argue that income-generating programs for women should be kept small in scale.(23) However, women's potential to participate in many different activities must be recognized. As long as the constraints are respected and the programs are realistic, these projects can facilitate self-reliance for women.

Of the durable solutions to refugee situations, most countries prefer that refugees return voluntarily to their countries of origin. Until recently, this was not an option for Afghan refugees. Since the fall of the communist government in Kabul and the establishment of an interim leadership in anticipation of full elections in 1992, about 1.2 million Afghans have left Pakistan. This is more than 8,000 each day.(24) The figures are four times as high as UNHCR expected.(25)

Two key factors have encouraged refugees to return to Afghanistan. The new government has given millions of Afghan refugees hope that there will be peace. At the same time, the government of Pakistan has reduced food and water supplies in the camps. This is a signal to the refugees that they have overstayed their welcome. However, more than two million refugees are not yet ready to return.(26) They are still worried about land mines, property disputes and factional fighting.

Many returning refugee families are also leaving at least one wage earner behind. Virtually nothing is left of Afghanistan's economy. Seasonal migration to Pakistan in search of employment is likely to continue for some time. "In a period when a return to their home countries has become a possibility for so many refugee women, [economic projects] are all the more needed, not only to benefit the participants in the projects but the countries to which they will be returning."(27)

International Organization: UNHCR

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), established in 1951, provides international protection to refugees who fall within the scope of its statute and seeks durable solutions for the problems of refugees. It also coordinates assistance programs for displaced persons in accordance with various subsequent General Assembly resolutions. It has representation in over 100 countries. UNHCR's Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women(28) were developed specifically with the mandate and operational needs of the Office in mind.

UNHCR did not recognize the needs of refugee women until the 1980 resolutions of the World Plan of Action, adopted as part of the General Assembly's proclamation of 1976 to 1985 as the U.N. Decade for Women. These urged UNHCR and other U.N. agencies to establish programs, especially in health, education and employment, to deal with the special situation of refugee and displaced women. The Plan of Action in this period identified the need to help these women develop economic self-reliance through income-generating programs.

However, it was not until April 1985 that the Executive Committee of UNHCR even discussed the particular needs of women refugees, at the Roundtable on Refugee Women in Nairobi. For the first time, the issue of refugee women was included on the UNHCR agenda in October 1985. In February 1988, the Steering Committee on Refugee Women was established under the Chairmanship of the Deputy High Commissioner. It was created to define, oversee and coordinate the revision of existing policies and programs. Finally, in August 1988, UNHCR issued internal guidelines on the international protection of refugee women to offices in the field. It also named a Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women in 1988 to report directly to the High Commissioner's office on the productivity of activities. Despite these measures, the NGO community has remained concerned about refugee women and has exerted pressure on UNHCR to do more.

Following an international conference held in November 1988, NGO groups submitted a report to the Executive Committee.(29) It described the recurrent problems faced by refugee women and UNHCR's progress in addressing women's needs, including aid and development programs. Subsequently, UNHCR recognized the necessity for more information on refugee women by embarking on several research studies and introducing a course in gender impact analysis for project planners. The Executive Committee also recommended that UNHCR formulate an organized plan for policy toward refugee women at its next session.(30)

UNHCR has developed a policy for refugee women, the Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women. The policy considers the special situations and resources of refugee women in the context of assistance projects. It recognizes that women's needs are not necessarily the same as those of men. Because of this, women must be included in planning and implementing projects. Despite these measures, women are underrepresented within UNHCR. Few serve as administrators and planners, or are deployed to the field.(31) Progress has been slow for Afghan refugee women in Pakistan.

With the responsibility primarily falling on UNHCR to deal with refugee populations, it convinced the government of Pakistan to

enter into agreements on programs for refugees. In 1986 and 1987, 30 percent of UNHCR's budget for Pakistan was allocated for education, skills training and income-generating programs.(32) While this substantial figure reflects awareness of the need to take a development approach toward assistance, it failed to extensively include women. For example, UNHCR implemented numerous infrastructure projects using refugee labor. These projects, however, employed mainly men. The few income-generating projects designed specifically for women were usually small-scale. These programs were plagued with many problems. This may have been due as much to UNHCR's failure to involve women in planning as to the situation faced by refugee women -- cultural constraints, illiteracy, poor health and the lack of time after domestic chores.(33) Nevertheless, UNHCR should have addressed these obstacles before beginning any program.

A successful project funded and overseen by UNHCR was the Ockenden Venture, a quilt-making program for refugee women. Refugee women were employed in the traditional occupation of tying quilts. Men worked in a separate location cutting and stuffing them. This project succeeded in overcoming purdah by dividing "traditional" responsibilities. The women were thus able to earn an average of 30 rupees per day, a reasonable wage even by Pakistani standards.(34)

UNHCR has set up encashment centers where Afghan refugees can exchange ration books for assistance in returning home. But people must fight their way to the centers to receive payment. Many are turned away every day. Some give up and sell their books for half their value. Meanwhile, the program runs low on funds. As of September 1992, UNHCR had spent $1.5 million a week on the encashment program -- about $23 per returnee.(35) UNHCR sees the encashment program as the easiest and most cost-effective method of helping refugees, including women, return to Afghanistan.

NGO: International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee (IRC), founded in 1933, is a U.S.-based private voluntary agency providing emergency relief and assistance to refugees and internally displaced victims of civil strife. It also helps refugees resettle and provides assistance in medical care, public health, education and related areas. The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children is an independent committee formed in 1989 with the assistance of the IRC to study the problems affecting refugee women and children.

The Women's Commission is the only organization in the United States that represents the world's 14 million refugees and internally displaced women and children. Since its inception, delegates from the Women's Commission have met with thousands of refugee women to listen to their pleas for education, training and programs affecting them and their families. This group also collects statistics relevant to gender and trains personnel according to the Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women. The IRC then uses these statistics in designing programs. Although the Women's Commission is committed "to a better future for women and children refugees throughout the world,"(36) this group has not been able to do much to assess the needs of Afghan refugee women.

The IRC is the largest NGO assisting refugees in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan. It has planned and implemented various self-sufficiency programs for refugee women. The IRC has faced many difficulties, but it generally has had some degree of success.

In the Hangu area, the IRC initiated a program in which refugee women could earn money by doing embroidery.(37) The IRC had to overcome several problems. First, it had to locate the most needy women, such as widows. These women were found through health centers in the camps -- the only place where women could gather outside their homes. Next, the mullahs of the camps, who believed the program to be a profit-making venture for the IRC, had to be convinced to allow women to participate in the program. This was accomplished by threatening to issue ration cards to women. In order to avoid any more confrontation with the mullahs, the IRC sought the permission, where possible, of the women's husbands or mother-in-laws. The women themselves, about 400, were eager to participate in the project.

Another problem the IRC faced was that it had built the training and embroidery facilities in four of the camps without consulting the camp elders. It encountered opposition. For those women who were not allowed to go to the centers, the IRC had to go to the family compounds to pick up and drop off the orders.

Once the project was underway, new problems arose. Funds to pay the women for their work began to run out, and quality control declined. The IRC then decided to continue with only the best embroiderers from the previous producers. Two hundred and forty women were thus able to earn 150 to 200 rupees per month. The final products were sold in the local shops of relief agencies in Pakistan.

The IRC also assisted in establishing training centers in Peshawar -- the Afghan Women's Center and the English Language Program for Women -- to teach the poorest women to read, speak languages used by aid agencies, and other skills to promote self-sufficiency. In 1989 it helped two Afghan women set up and run the program. Before the program was initiated, these women discussed the plans with the mullahs and tribal leaders, who granted permission. This institution, run by and for Afghan women, recognized refugee women's needs. However, Afghan men continually harassed the center's staff and visitors in an effort to confine women at home in order to attend to their domestic and reproductive "responsibilities."(38)

Those involved encountered severe opposition. IRC's Pakistani director, Tom Yates, received numerous death threats. E. Aziz, head of the English Language Program, was assassinated in 1991. The Afghan founders, Latifa and Sohaila, faced personal intimidation including public insults. These two women became outcasts in their society when leaflets were distributed in 1990 describing them as wanton women, marking them as adherents of Western values and thus against the teachings of Islam. The center closed several times, but each time reopened. Women who attended the programs faced similar pressure.

A 1990 religious edict by mullahs and tribal leaders forbade any woman from leaving the home without the permission and accompaniment of a male family member. The women at the center became vulnerable to attacks and insults. They were often forced to remain in seclusion until it was safe to return to the center's activities. Despite these troubles, word spread quickly and the center filled to capacity.(39)

Host Country: Pakistan

The government of Pakistan established the Commissioner for Afghan Refugees as the agency to administer aid to the 300 refugee villages. Cooperating with UNHCR, it has distributed international relief and has provided essential goods and services to registered Afghan refugees located in Baluchistan, the NWFP and Punjab. Most of the refugees live in the Baluchistan and NWFP areas and have strong cultural ties with the indigenous populations. These ties have made it easier for Pakistan to deal with such a massive inflow.

The Pakistani government has placed few restrictions on Afghan refugees. Refugees can travel freely throughout most of Pakistan and may hold certain jobs in the local economy. However, they are not permitted to own their own land, which makes farming difficult. They also are not offered opportunities that would make their lives appear better than that of the indigenous population. Women's opportunities are even more restricted.(40)

Women who are heads of households are often denied food rations because they are unable to register. Without male family members to represent them to village authorities, they must make arrangements to register through a third party. The Pakistani government has distributed food through maliks, or refugee leaders, who often resell the food on the local market. Women and children without male relatives have had no voice and thus, little access to food. Recent efforts have been made to improve the situation,(41) but not enough has been accomplished. Women often remain unable to collect their own food and must rely on the charity of families headed by men.

The government of Pakistan responded to women who head households by setting up "widows' camps" near Peshawar. Here women lived apart from the male-dominated camps and their needs could be better met. Although they were cut off from other members of their community, assistance and programs were more successful because men interfered less often. Pressure from Afghan leaders forced the government to close these camps in early 1987.(42)

Income-generating projects in conjunction with UNHCR also have been attempted. The Pakistani government and UNHCR signed an agreement in 1985 to encourage self-help projects for Afghan refugee women. A number of projects were subsequently implemented in refugee villages and camps. Initial opposition from the male leaders in the refugee camps was overcome by respecting purdah and by focusing on the most vulnerable women, such as widows with no other means of support. The production of handicrafts for sale in local markets was the agreed upon income-generating activity.(43) However, the flood of Afghan handicrafts antagonized local sellers. The project also assumed that it would attempt to export the crafts internationally. However, the government of Pakistan did not want to strain their import quota to the United States by including Afghan handicrafts.

The government of Pakistan has cooperated with international organizations to promote other small-scale projects. Some of these include growing vegetables on small plots in family compounds and poultry raising. Other income-generating projects have been less successful. These failures may be due as much to the limitations of the refugee women as to the restrictions placed on them by the Pakistani government.(44)

Afghan refugees have damaged the environment in parts of Pakistan. The government has welcomed public works projects which employ many refugees to help repair forests. However, women have been involved in only a few large-scale projects. One example of women's participation is the $86.6 million, three-phase project, which combined environmental rehabilitation in the Hangu area of NWFP and income-generating activities for the refugees. The project was funded by the World Bank and UNHCR in collaboration with the government of Pakistan and was completed last year.(45)

Planting trees and nurturing saplings has also provided paid employment to needy Afghan refugees. The families are selected on the basis of need, beginning with widows and the disabled. Women working in this program are able to purchase extra food items, such as wheat and oil. The long term benefits will be even greater. The Afghans who return home will have newly acquired skills and knowledge with which to rebuild their own devastated country.(46)

Despite Pakistan's efforts, it always has seen the situation of Afghans as temporary and now expects them to return to their homes in Afghanistan. Although UNHCR and other international organizations have paid for the upkeep of the refugees, Pakistanis have shared limited resources, such as land, water and health services. The government of Pakistan no longer wishes to continue its generosity and even has offered the refugees free transportation back to Afghanistan.


Evaluation of the Situation in Pakistan

Because so many refugee women are heads of households, the international community must understand the special situation they face in struggling to provide for their families. Refugee women can improve their own as well as their families' situation through programs that promote economic self-reliance. Planning and implementing projects will determine their success or failure.

International organizations, NGOs and governments must seek to promote development, not merely provide assistance. Programs focused on development can help achieve durable solutions for refugees. The Afghan refugees are now expected to return. If they can be self-sufficient, they will become reincorporated more easily into Afghan society and reestablish their communities. Women can become a greater asset back home. Th long-term benefits of income-generating programs will be noticeable.

The programs in Pakistan often suffered from typical symptoms: fuzzy goals and objectives; lack of proper planning; excessive administrative costs and/or inadequate funding; and inadequate consultation with the refugee community.(47) Feasibility studies were rarely conducted to address these issues. Evaluations undertaken beforehand could have anticipated and solved problems or determined that a project was not worthwhile at all. All parties involved would have saved much time, effort and money. Assessments of the population are necessary in understanding its needs.

Both international organizations and NGOs need a thorough knowledge of the host country and its restrictions. UNHCR failed to realize that Pakistan's export constraints would block exports of handicrafts. Negotiations with host country officials may be needed to overcome such barriers. Voluntary agencies should explore loopholes and alternatives.

Although women often outnumber men in refugee camps, UNHCR, NGOs and host countries do not collect statistics on female refugees. The IRC, through the Women's Commission, has attempted to address this problem. However, statistics on the total number of refugee women are currently incomplete. Little is known about their background, including family composition and size, cultural constraints, education and skills. These are precisely the factors that help refugee women serve as resources for their own families and communities. Without data, decision-makers must rely on the sometimes incorrect judgments of their staffs.

Better mechanisms need to be developed to overcome cultural constraints. Agencies with realistic perceptions are more able to avoid problems. Male Afghan leaders had to be convinced that women should work for their own benefit. This became more difficult when women took employment outside of the home, threatening purdah. The IRC overlooked this in their embroidery program, however UNHCR addressed this problem in the Ockenden Venture. If women are to participate in income-generating activities, separate project centers and classes in language and skills also may be necessary. This may be the only way to give them access to education and training, as in the IRC's English Language Program. However, these projects involve only a few refugee women.

In many countries, women often are best able to understand and attend to needs of refugee women, such as health care. Refugee women are trusted to help. The Afghan Women's Center of the IRC used Afghan women who understood the place of women in Islam and could provide the poorest with much needed skills. The refugee women's willingness to participate in the programs shows that they are interested in increasing their income.

Women must take part in any decision-making that affects them. Otherwise, programs such as the government of Pakistan's distribution of food rations and UNHCR's encashment centers may continue to allocate resources unequally. This will hinder the refugee community's ability to prosper. While women often are not allowed to participate in income-generating activities, alternatives must be explored. These options could include: giving priority for employment to qualified local women; modifying current restrictions on where female employees can be deployed; and, when appropriate, making arrangements with wives of field representatives to organize projects.(48) In addition, UNHCR should hire more women to work in its headquarters.

Although development projects for women should be designed toward the goal of long-term economic self-sufficiency, in Pakistan UNHCR has focused its attention on assisting and protecting female refugees in the short term. As new crises have arisen, it has failed to provide ongoing support for self-sufficiency programs, claiming these concerns are outside its mandate. The IRC's training program has recognized the long-term implications and provided women with skills. The government of Pakistan has shown little interest in the long-term effects, as it fears refugees will remain, even though it has benefited from infrastructure projects.

In planning a self-sufficiency project, Susan Forbes Martin has noted that the goals should be to generate income for the participants, to receive a return at least equal to that invested and to have realistic expectations of the outcomes.(49) Problems result when planners and implementors have different or overly ambitious objectives. The agreement for the handicraft project encouraged by UNHCR was clear in its purpose, but expected more than was possible. Mechanisms are needed to achieve these goals.

Other difficulties afflicted income-generating programs for refugee women. Marginal economic activities, such as the handicrafts project, were generally the only ones attempted. Many of these women had pursued larger-scale activities in their home countries. Rural women had been involved in farming. Despite this and the success of the environmental rehabilitation project in the Hangu, the larger projects that focused on reforestation, infrastructure development or farming rarely included women. Most self-sufficiency programs tended to allocate resources to men. Because more Afghan women lived in the refugee camps than men, neither large- nor small-scale projects could have benefited all members of the refugee population without incorporating women into its plan. This has raised questions about whether Western biases about the traditional role of women have restricted their choices.(50) While cultural constraints had to be considered, negotiations to include women were rarely undertaken.

The projects for Afghan refugee women were implemented in a country facing its own economic crisis. Pakistan, with a per capita GNP of only $370,(51) feared that self-sufficiency programs would encourage refugees to remain, and that contributions to aid its own development might be diverted to the refugees. The Pakistani people also have had to compete with refugees for scarce resources and employment opportunities. Considering its own economic situation, the government of Pakistan has been rather generous to the Afghan refugees. Relief agencies, such as UNHCR and IRC, must deal with these economic constraints and declining assistance funds as the number of refugees worldwide increases. They must take measures to allocate donations more efficiently.

Refugees' opportunities also are limited by the laws of host countries. The Afghan refugees have enjoyed freedom of movement and jobs in the local economy. The Pakistani government has made it less costly for refugees to maintain some degree of independence and support their families. This has saved UNHCR and IRC time and money. However, the refugees have not been allowed to own land because of the scarcity of resources and the risk that they will compete with the local population.


The principal institutions that serve refugee women are international organizations, NGOs and host countries. UNHCR, as the agency most responsible for refugees, has a mandate to promote income-generating activities.(52) Because of its key role and the way it often shapes the atmosphere in the camps, UNHCR must sharpen its focus on issues concerning refugee women. It should follow its own Guidelines. The IRC, whose staff includes female workers sensitive to the plight of women refugees, has been consistently more responsive to their needs. Like international organizations, the IRC and other NGOs must shift their emphasis to development programs. Host countries interested in the repatriation of their new inhabitants should engage in more contracts with relief agencies for infrastructure projects employing refugee women. Not only does this support much of the refugee population, it also relieves some of the burden of hosting refugees. Another strategy is to intercede on behalf of the refugees to expedite their return.

While numerous recommendations have been offered by many sources, these have not been presented in a step-by-step framework. The experiences of the programs for Afghan refugee women suggest a four-step plan for the international community to promote economic self-reliance. This plan should include: a strong commitment to income generation; research on refugee women before, during and after a crisis occurs; complete policy guidelines available for the establishment of programs to overcome constraints; and efficient planning and implementation of these guidelines including the participation of refugee women.

The commitment to income-generation is not as strong as governments and refugee agencies claim it is, especially in the case of women. Women-only projects are better able to address specific constraints faced by women, especially cultural ones. Marginal or "traditional" activities should not be the only projects attempted, as they do not fully utilize women's capacities. Host countries that are interested in repatriating their new inhabitants might find it in their interest to engage in more contracts with relief agencies for infrastructure projects that allow refugee women to earn and save money. However, economic projects should not be confused with social service projects; they should focus specifically on income-generation. Before it can begin to develop a working plan, the international community must first recognize that women have special needs and benefit their communities.

The second step is to conduct extensive research on women, in particular those in refugee populations. Assessments of refugee populations must be conducted that identify refugee women's special situation. Project feasibility studies are necessary. Information on women should include age, family composition, education and skills levels, social status, special requirements and potential for self-reliance. This is the best method of overcoming constraints. Once the guidelines have been implemented for specific programs, monitoring should continue to ensure that the program is proceeding as planned, particularly that sufficient household income is being earned. Expert advice on farming, setting up small businesses and similar pursuits should be provided throughout. The lessons learned from various programs should be available for comparative study in UNHCR or NGO publications. This research on the role of refugee women as resources for development can then be incorporated into policy guidelines for NGOs and UNHCR.

The third step is for each U.N. agency, host government and NGO involved in promoting self-reliance to develop a policy statement on refugee women. Much of the groundwork has already been done and UNHCR has produced Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women. Those statements should be used to guide the establishment and implementation of aid and development programs for refugee women. UNHCR should also incorporate various contracts between relief agencies into its Guidelines. Only with this background can programs be properly planned and implemented.

Finally, those working with refugee women should adhere to existing policies and research. Women should have equal access to programs and fully participate in the design and fulfillment of these programs. Refugee women also should be incorporated into all development projects that affect them. Such programs, especially those that do not affect men, must be designed with cultural and other barriers in mind. Only by participating in decisions that affect their lives can refugee women derive the full benefits from these programs and attain self-sufficiency.

Refugee women should engage in income-generating programs not only out of interest and willingness, but also out of necessity. As heads of their households, they have the greatest responsibilities and the fewest means of support. Skills training and employment can make a refugee woman a more valuable resource to her community and allow her to better provide for her family. Development projects are the only solid long-term solutions. Several options are currently available, but the international community must do much more if it is to succeed in making refugee women self-reliant. (1.) Judy A. Mayotte, Disposable People? (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992) p. 148; other sources strongly support this estimation. (2.) Susan Forbes Martin and Emily Copeland, Making Ends Meet (Washington, DC: Refugee Policy Group, 1988) p. 1. (3.) ibid., pp. 2-3. (4.) ibid., pp. 53-54. (5.) Susan Forbes Martin and Joyce Mends-Cole, Refugee Women and Economic Self-Reliance (Washington, DC: Refugee Policy Group, June 1992) p. 6. (6.) ibid., p. 53. (7.) ibid., pp. 52-53. (8.) ibid. (9.) ibid., p. 54. (10.) ibid., p. 54. (11.) ibid, p. 7. (12.) ibid., p. 3. (13.) ibid., pp. 11-15. (14.) ibid., pp. 15-18. (15.) Amnesty International USA, "Women Refugees: Issue Brief," (New York: 1991) p. 2. (16.) Inter Press Service, 7 March 1992. (17.) U.S. Committee for Refugees, World Refugee Survey (Washington, DC: 1992) p. 35. (18.) ibid, p. 33. (19.) Robert Siegel, "All Things Considered," National Public Radio, 23 April 1992. (20.) Julia Vadala Taft, Issues and Options for Refugee Women in Developing Countries (Washington DC: Refugee Policy Group, 1987) p. 9. (21.) ibid. (22.) ibid. (23.) For example: ibid., p. 12. (24.) Bob Edwards, "Afghan Refugees Resuming Home Too Soon?" on National Public Radio, 7 July 1992. (25.) Emily MacFaguhar, "You Can Go Home Again," U.S. News and World Report, 30 November 1992, p. 45. (26.) ibid. (27.) Forbes Martin and Mends-Cole, p. 19. (28.) UNHCR, Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women (Geneva: UNHCR, July 1991). (29.) Susan Forbes Martin, Issues in Refugee and Displaced Women and Children (Washington, DC: Refugee Policy Group, 25 June 1990) pp. 43-45. (30.) ibid., p. 45. (31.) According to a recent UNHCR report, 209 women and 525 men were employed by UNHCR as professional staff members. ACC/1992/PER/R.22,7 October 1992. (32.) Taft, p. 12. (33.) ibid. (34.) For further details see Forbes and Copeland, p. 53. (35.) Sylvie Gerard, "Afghanistan: the will but not the means," Refugees, no. 90 (September 1992) p. 20. (36.) Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, "Helping to Have Their Voices Heard" (New York: International Rescue Committee, 1992). (37.) The following account is taken from Forbes and Copeland, pp. 50-51. (38.) Mayotte, p. 158. (39.) Mayotte, p. 154. Latifa's and Sohaila's names were changed to preserve their anonymity. (40.) Taft, p. 9. (41.) Taft, p. 10. (42.) ibid., p. 11. (43.) For a detailed description see Forbes and Copeland, p. 47. (44.) Taft. (45.) Hugh Hudson, "Money Trees in Pakistan," Refugees, no. 89 (May 1992) p. 17. (46.) ibid. (47.) For criteria see Forbes Martin, p. 30. (48.) Taft, p. 3. (49.) Forbes Martin, p. 61. (50.) Susan Forbes Martin, Issues in Refugee and Displaced Women and Children, p. 30. (51.) U.S. Committee for Refugees, p. 35. (52.) For a full explanation see UNHCR, Guidelines.
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Title Annotation:Refugees and International Population Flows; The Andrew Wellington Cordier Essay
Author:Schultz, Christina M.
Publication:Journal of International Affairs
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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