The Refugee Crisis: Are Women and PWDs an Afterthought?
There are approximately 82.4 million forcibly displaced people in the world today. About half of them are women and the statistics on displaced persons with disabilities are often not even considered.
We have been confronted by images and videos of palpable desperation: families begging to flee the country, mothers throwing their babies into the arms of strangers, people clinging to the sides of airplanes – and some falling to their deaths in the process. The situation is ripe for exploitation, tragedy and horror breeding new forms of tragedy and horror. These journeys are extremely dangerous for all, but how often do we think of the threats that marginalized groups face? PWDs? Women? Women with disabilities? Unfortunately not enough or at all.
Historically in situations of armed conflict, fleeing, or evacuation, PWDs are not prioritized. Basic survival for the greatest number is the goal, and PWDs either don’t factor into the calculus or are considered collateral damage, admittedly or not. There are real consequences to gaps such as lack of protection for those who are at high risk, availability of assistive devices (e.g., canes and wheelchairs), access to basic services, and more. According to Human Rights Watch Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of disability in the world. With over a two decade long war and conflict, the people are left with physical injury, PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
The Human Rights Watch highlights a story of a single mother with a physical disability needing to use a tree branch to flee Cameroon because she didn’t have access to an assistive device. Her story is one of many. We shouldn’t be heartbroken by such injustices, but rather enraged and activated. These situations are wrong, but they are also entirely avoidable, and we can choose to take action. As a society, we need to see PWDs as people with value. Because every person has value. PWDs are often left behind in dangerous situations or treated as an afterthought. This is a tragedy that we accept and live with every day. But perhaps an extraordinary tragedy can lead to new awareness.
History shows that when the Taliban had control of Afghanistan they led with a zero tolerance policy towards women, homosexuality and persons with disabilities. This current situation has sparked fear and anxiety in millions. The options for Afghan women and PWDs ricochet between accepting violence and oppression as a way of life or fleeing and risking violence and death in the process.
These days, with so much suffering, it can feel like each day exposes another raw nerve. We are hyper-aware of the pain in the world. Yet, the purpose of my reflections today is to highlight a silver lining around the dark cloud that appears to be hanging over us. Benasfha Yaqubi. Benafsha is a blind commissioner with the Afghanistan Human Rights Commission, risking her life fighting for the women and PWDs. She fled Kabul and took asylum in London and is pleading with the Taliban and Western government officials for the safety of disabled Afghans. In her interview with Insider she said “I’m not calm, I’m not okay, and I’m not feeling well – because of my people. This isn’t the time for slogans or to talk philosophy. This is the time to talk [about] action.”
We must follow in Benafsha’s footsteps. This is the time for action. I have always believed that there is incredible power in human connection, because I think we have so very much in common. Amending these injustices starts with compassion.
Refer to the links below to find out how you can support women and PWDs in Afghanistan: