As the UN tries to mobilize a record $4.4 billion in humanitarian aid to tackle Afghanistan’s severe humanitarian crisis, the Taliban’s decision to close middle and high schools for Afghan women risks stifling international aid.
Afghanistan is deprived of donations? The consequences of the Taliban’s brutal decision to ban girls from high school are starting to show. The World Bank announced on Wednesday, March 30, the suspension of four projects worth about $600 million (540.9 million euros).
These projects were ready for implementation by UN agencies to support initiatives in the areas of education, health and agriculture, as well as community livelihoods. And that’s not counting the sudden reversal of the Taliban, who last week reversed their decision to allow girls to attend secondary school, just hours after the long announcement of the school’s reopening. A sharp turn that caused a wave of indignation in the world and among Afghan women.
This big leap back now risks jeopardizing not only the international recognition of the regime of these fundamentalist Islamists, but, above all, the billions of euros in international aid planned to bring Afghanistan out of a deep economic and humanitarian crisis.
It is not for nothing that the international community has made the right to education for all a condition of providing this assistance. Before the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) also expressed doubts about the release of aid promised to Afghanistan after the overthrow of the new masters of Kabul. Thus, international assistance could go to other humanitarian crises in the world if the Taliban delay the opening of secondary and high schools for girls in Afghanistan, UNDP chief Achim Steiner warned during a visit to Kabul on Monday.
However, time is running out. Since the Taliban took power and withdrew international funding, which accounted for 75% of the Afghan budget, the country has plunged into a deep crisis that exacerbates an already dire humanitarian situation after four decades of conflict and recent droughts. According to the UN, some 23 million Afghans are now starving, 95% of the country’s inhabitants are malnourished, and 10 million children urgently need help to survive.
“One million severely malnourished children are on the verge of death,” warned UN chief António Guterres, who is trying to mobilize a record $4.4 billion (€3.9 billion) in humanitarian aid while denouncing Taliban bans on Afghan women . . A donor conference jointly hosted on Thursday 31 March by the UN, the UK, Germany and Qatar aimed to piece together this call for funds, the largest ever for a single country. But so far only 13% of the required amount has been pledged.
“They will never give in”
“Donors may be less generous, but every dollar counts to save lives,” lamented Heather Barr, acting co-director of Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) women’s rights division. Together with France 24 in Islamabad, she said she was pessimistic about opening schools for girls in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Ministry of Education, which did not provide a clear explanation to justify the closure of a girls’ high school, mentioned “some practical issues that were not resolved before the deadline set for reopening”. A statement suggesting that a compromise could be made on the adoption of uniforms for young Afghan women, clothing that would specifically aim to cover the face on the way to school.
“The Taliban came to power in August 2021 and have not found a solution for seven months?” Heather Barr ironically. “I do not believe in that. They will never compromise. They will rock it and never be like it was 25 years ago.”
Condemning the rise in attacks on women’s rights, HRW believes that the Taliban “seem to have stopped pretending to appease donors in the hope of getting help and recognition.” The NGO recalls other restrictions announced days after girls’ schools were closed, such as banning women from traveling by plane without a male family member or banning them from Kabul’s parks four days a week.
Taliban divided over women’s freedoms
“The Taliban are still divided into factions. Power struggles between these groups have played a role in these latest setbacks against Afghan women,” says Heather Barr.
“Some Taliban were educated outside of Afghanistan, they spent time in Pakistan or elsewhere. Particularly in Qatar, where they could see that Islam encourages the education of women while at the same time laying down strict dress codes for them,” explains France 24 Afzal Ashraf. Lecturer in International Relations and Security at Loughborough University. “But most have a more traditional approach. They want women to stay at home. Any concessions on this issue are seen by these Taliban as a defeat for the West, which wants them to educate young girls as part of their ongoing drive to change the beliefs and practices of their people.”
The researcher also argues that leadership is not central among the Taliban. In addition, the political weight of different factions varies depending on the alliances. “Their influence is proportional to military power, it is based on the number of people who follow the Taliban leader, not on religious motives.” A complexity that no doubt explains the repeated coups and political uncertainty since the Taliban came to power.
“Don’t punish all Afghans”
According to many observers of the Afghan society, the West should not expect the masters of Kabul to be committed to education, and should not link humanitarian aid to the uncertain policies of the new Afghan executive, to the extent necessary. “Shouldn’t we be saving women’s lives before we worry about their education? Without this help, Afghan women and their babies will die. The question of the education of young Afghan girls will no longer arise, as they will starve,” says Afzal Ashraf.
“Don’t punish all Afghans for the abuses of the Taliban,” pleads HRW. “Afghanistan is suffering from a humanitarian crisis largely due to the decisions of donors, especially the United States. Abuse by the Taliban should not hinder donor efforts to overcome the humanitarian crisis and unblock the Afghan economy.”