Withdrawal of international aid from Afghanistan disproportionately harms women and girls: NGO

(NEW YORK) — Many aid organizations withdrew their funding to Afghanistan after the Taliban implemented several regressive policies on Afghan women’s human rights in the final months of 2022. But the withdrawal of international aid from the country stands to harm the most vulnerable part of Afghanistan’s population: women and girls, a new report from the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization, says.

The Taliban restricted women’s rights further at the end of 2022 by limiting women and girls’ access to education and banning women from working at NGOs, the report said.

After the ban was announced, G7 donors, which provided most of the $3 billion in humanitarian funding for Afghanistan in 2022, threatened “unspecified future consequences” according to the new report.

The reaction of global leaders to the Taliban’s policies disrupted the world’s largest aid operation, as half of Afghanistan’s population currently suffers from acute hunger.

About 11.6 million women and girls were impacted by reductions in aid. Drastic aid cuts would most likely impact women and girls who often receive the smallest share of food in Afghan families. Women and girls are considered to be most vulnerable to malnutrition and disease, the report said.

On Dec. 24, 2022, the nation’s Ministry of Economy banned Afghan women from working for national and international NGOs in a widely circulated letter. Authorities clarified that the ban would not apply to women working in hospitals, clinics or other parts of the health sector, but for all other activities.

The rule prevented tens of thousands of NGO staff from doing their jobs. Women account for about 30% of Afghan NGO workers in the country, the report said.

Some aid agencies chose to suspend operations in Afghanistan but continued to negotiate with the Taliban to get limited authorizations for their female workers, obtaining permission for them to resume work in health, nutrition, education and other programs. However, a large number of life-saving activities still remain officially illegal.

The Ministry of Higher Education issued a written order to public and private universities, suspending female education until further notice also in December 2022, the report said.

The report goes into detail about how the enforcement of education restrictions on women were implemented inside of Afghanistan, citing interviews conducted by members of the International Crisis Group working from inside the country.

The Taliban stood at checkpoints set up around universities, confronting female students and teachers at campus gates. Male students were ushered inside of universities while women were told, at gunpoint, they could no longer attend. Students protested in several cities, but the Taliban dispersed them with water cannons, beatings and arrests, according to the report.

In January 2023, the Ministry of Education issued a statement stating that all schooling in grades one to six would be permitted. Later in the month, another statement said women are barred from private universities.

The Taliban also banned Afghan women and girls from accessing parks, gyms and bath houses, and reintroduced the public punishment of criminals, including floggings and executions, previous hallmarks of the regime’s brutality, in November, a month before the education restrictions were implemented, the report stated.

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