On Thursday 18th November, the Mary Ann McCracken Foundation hosted its inaugural annual lecture, focusing on the challenges facing Afghan women.
Many of us have watched in horror as events in Afghanistan have unfolded. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee, fearing for their lives and escaping conflict. Speaking at the event was Dr Sima Nazari, a successful Afghan doctor who was forced to leave her home country following death threats from the Taliban. Sima shared the heart-breaking story of having to leave a job she loved, a job which she worked so hard to get, having put herself through medical school, all because she was a woman.
Also speaking at the event was Bilal, an Afghan national who served as Cultural Advisor and Interpreter for British Forces in Afghanistan from 2009 until 2014. Bilal’s intricate knowledge of Afghanistan enabled him to secure safe passage for many vulnerable Afghans this August, including Dr Sima Nazari. Bilal is worried about the impact of women like Sima disappearing from public and civic life.
“Dr Sima Nazari’s patients do not now have a doctor. Women, many-many thousands of women, will give birth without any medical help. This is replicated across all areas of society.
According to WHO, Afghan mothers already have the highest mortality rate, at one in eleven women dying in child birth. This figure, and that of infant mortality, will undoubtedly sour with the disappearance of doctors and nurses from hospitals across the country.
Bilal also worries about the long-term impact of young women growing up without an education, about the pressure on families who now are reduced to one income and the lost opportunities of women being a role model for the next generation.
Attendees also heard from Sara. Sara came to the UK as a refugee at the age of six. She successfully graduated from University this year, something women in Afghanistan are denied. She now helps other Afghans who have arrived in the UK to navigate the housing system, access to schools and translation services. Language is not the only barrier for people arriving into the UK. With more and more services moved online because of Covid, access to digital devices is also now becoming an issue.
The final contributor at this significant event was Liz Griffith from The Law Centre NI. Liz spoke passionately about the proposed changes to legislation within the Nationalities and Borders Bill, changes which would result in division and segregation of those refugees which make their way into the UK ‘on their own steam’. The future of these people would be very uncertain, they would be striped of their refugee status, and ultimately left in limbo. Something which goes against human rights law. Liz called on everyone at the event to do what they could to raise these issues with their local MPs
To close, Bilal painted a very dark picture of what the future holds for many millions of Afghans who haven’t been lucky enough to escape. “Women and children will die of starvation this winter. More women will die in childbirth this year than last year. This situation is even worse for widows, like my mother. They will have no means to provide for their children. The lights have been turned off in Afghanistan by the Taliban but I’m asking everyone here not to forget the Afghans who have been left behind.”
Due to ongoing conflict and drought, many women and children face malnutrition and starvation. With winter temperatures falling rapidly, people are also in a race to find proper shelter and firewood. Bilal closed the event by urging people in the audience to do what they can to support charities who are working on the ground in Afghanistan to help alleviate this crisis.