In 1989, a group of Afghan women established the Afghan Women Welfare Department to address the needs of Afgan refugees in Peshawar, Pakistan.
At that time, no independent women's organizations existed to serve the three million refugees who were fleeing the Afghan-Soviet war. A decade later, over a million Afghan refugees still live in Pakistan. Others arrive daily at camps to escape continued violence in Afghanistan.
Director Jamila Akbarzai and the staff work in the Nasir Bagh Refugee Camp. The camps in Pakistan are hopelessly under equipped to cope with demands placed on them by the refugee population. Families live in makeshift shelters, often without running water, electricity or sewage facilities; violence is endemic. Outraged by conditions that have forced educated and uneducated women alike to beg on the streets in order to survive. The group has mobilized local and international support to develop a wide range of income-generating and literacy programs.
Training women in candle-making gives them a practical way to earn a living, but also enables them to advance their status within the family and community.
The group pays special attention to disabled women and to women whose spouses are disabled, by including them in its microcredit program, which gives women raw material for making clothing. In addition to sewing classes, participants receive training in basic sales and marketing, enabling them to sell their goods and earn a small profit.