Together with Afghan human rights activists, humanitarian organisations, and civil society activists around the world, WILPF is urgently calling on the international community to use an effective and practical way of ensuring financial aid and supplies can be transferred to Afghans. This must be done without compromising the rights of women or ceding control of these resources.
Since the country’s rapid takeover by the Taliban in early August, foreign aid to Afghanistan has almost entirely ceased. Yet with funding from the international community – including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, foreign governments, and humanitarian agencies – comprising nearly 75 per cent of Afghanistan’s public expenditure budget prior to the Taliban’s rise to power, its sudden absence has left the country on the brink of collapse.
The healthcare system has been particularly hard hit, with $600 million in international healthcare aid now frozen.
For the past two months, doctors and other healthcare workers – including 14,000 women – have not been paid. Prevented from accessing basic necessities, including food and medicine, they are unable to continue treating patients and health clinics are closing.
The World Health Organization recently noted in a statement that the country is now experiencing a surge in cases of measles, while progress made over the past 20 years to significantly reduce rates of maternal and infant mortality and polio is at risk of being undone in a matter of weeks.
Meanwhile, the country’s 120,000 women teachers have not only had their salaries cut off, but have been banned from teaching by the Taliban. Women working in rural areas – already one of Afghanistan’s most marginalised groups – are also unable to work or receive payment.
In all cases, the lives, health, and well-being of these women and their families are at extreme risk and the international community must act now to protect their human rights.
Aid paused to prevent Taliban from accessing funds
After the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in mid-August, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund immediately paused their disbursements to the country while the United States froze over $9 billion in accounts with the Afghan Central Bank.
Other aid groups and foreign governments have similarly ceased the flow of funding into the country, resulting in massive and worsening shortages of food, medicine, money, and other critical supplies.
The international community had a valid rationale behind the freezing of assets: not doing so would mean de facto recognition of the Taliban by giving the group control over economic resources without conditions. As a result, any leverage to pressure the Taliban to uphold human rights, and women’s rights in particular, would be lost. Notably, the Taliban remain listed as a global terrorist group by the United Nations Security Council, and numerous countries have placed broad sanctions on the militants.
But aid organisations and activists are demanding that the international community recognise the gravity of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan and take immediate action.
“The question is how to ensure direct funding is provided for the salaries of public sector workers – which is not considered to be ‘humanitarian aid’ – without allowing funds to get into the hands of the Taliban,” says Madeleine Rees, Secretary-General of WILPF.
Rees suggests that the simplest mechanism would be to set up a trust fund with specifically worded objectives so that the UN, or another body overseeing the process, can make payments directly to the trust’s beneficiaries.
“This would be in addition to the humanitarian aid, which would continue to be delivered through specialised agencies and NGOs,” she says. “I understand that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank are in discussion as to how to do this. WILPF has also demanded the creation of such a trust, along with Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council.”
Rees adds that she is concerned the UNDP and the World Bank, which do not have track records of enacting programmes and policies rooted in gender analysis and women’s rights, may not be focused on ensuring women’s rights are upheld when it comes to how the trust is set up.
“Aid policy seems to be being made without consultation with women either inside or outside Afghanistan,” she says. “Without women’s participation, the UN and other players will be essentially institutionalising the inequalities created by the Taliban – making it even harder for women to exercise their basic human rights.”
WILPF Afghanistan president Jamila Afghani says that some engagement with the Taliban may be necessary to enable the flow of aid to Afghans, but that sanctions against the group must be maintained until the group follows international norms on human rights, and specifically on women’s rights.
“While we understand the international community’s concerns over allowing funding to get into the hands of the Taliban, what needs to be prioritised right now is the safety and well-being of the Afghan people,” she says. “The international community must do whatever it possibly can to ensure aid is able to flow into the country.”
The US recently announced that it has authorised various government and non-governmental groups to engage with the Taliban to provide humanitarian assistance, and has issued a license allowing food and medicine exports into Afghanistan.
But humanitarian organisations and Afghan activists are sounding the alarm that the aid is not coming quickly enough, or from enough sources.
“Afghans are facing a catastrophe, particularly as the country heads into winter,” says Afghani. “The world must not turn its back.”
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