As the UN seeks to mobilize a record $4.4 billion in humanitarian aid to deal with a severe humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, the Taliban’s decision to close middle and high schools for Afghan women threatens international aid impede.
Afghanistan deprived of donations? The consequences of the Taliban’s brutal decision to ban girls from secondary schools are beginning to be felt. The World Bank on Wednesday, March 30, announced the suspension of four projects worth around $600 million (€540.9 million).
These projects were ready for implementation by UN agencies to support initiatives in education, health, agriculture and community livelihoods. Not to mention the sudden U-turn by the Taliban, who last week reversed their decision to allow girls to attend secondary school just hours after the long-heralded reopening. A reversal that triggered a wave of outrage around the world and among Afghan women.
This major step backwards now threatens not only to jeopardize international recognition of the regime of these fundamentalist Islamists, but above all the billions in international aid planned to lead Afghanistan out of a deep economic and humanitarian crisis.
With good reason, the international community has made the right to education for all a condition for the granting of this aid. Before the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) had also expressed reservations about the allocation of the aid promised to Afghanistan after the reversal of the new Kabul masters. Aid from the international community could also benefit other humanitarian crises in the world if the Taliban delay the reopening of middle and high schools for girls in Afghanistan, UNDP chief Achim Steiner warned on Monday during a visit to Kabul.
However, time is running out. Since the Taliban took power and international funding, which accounted for 75% of Afghanistan’s budget, ended, the country has plunged into a deep crisis, compounding an already dire humanitarian situation after four decades of conflict and recent droughts. According to the United Nations, around 23 million Afghans are now suffering from hunger and 95% of the country’s residents do not have enough to eat, while 10 million children urgently need help to survive.
“One million severely malnourished children are on the brink of death,” warned UN chief Antonio Guterres, who is attempting to mobilize a record $4.4 billion in humanitarian aid while condemning that provided by the Taliban imposed bans on Afghan women. A donors’ conference co-organized by the UN, the UK, Germany and Qatar on Thursday March 31 aimed to bring together this appeal for funds, the largest ever deployed for a single country. So far, however, only 13% of the amount needed has been pledged.
“You will never make concessions”
“Donors may be less generous, but every dollar counts to save lives,” laments Heather Barr, acting co-director of Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) women’s rights division. She was joined by France 24 in Islamabad and said she was pessimistic about the reopening of schools for girls in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Ministry of Education, which gave no clear reason for the closure of the girls’ secondary school, had mentioned “some practical problems that were not solved before the deadline set for the opening”. A statement suggesting that a compromise might be possible in introducing a uniform for young Afghan women, clothing aimed in particular at covering their face on their way to school.
“The Taliban took power in August 2021 and in seven months they still haven’t found a solution?” Ironically, Heather Barr. “I do not believe it. You will never make concessions. They will let that dangle and they never will, just like they did 25 years ago.”
HRW denounced an increase in attacks on women’s rights and believes the Taliban “appear to have stopped placating donors in hopes of help and recognition”. The NGO recalls other restrictions announced in the days after girls’ schools closed, such as the ban on women traveling by plane without a male family member or the ban on parks in Kabul four days a week to visit.
Taliban split on women’s freedoms
“The Taliban are still divided into factions. The power struggles between these groups played out against Afghan women in these last-minute reversals,” says Heather Barr.
“Some Taliban were educated outside of Afghanistan, they spent time in Pakistan or elsewhere. Especially in Qatar, where they could see that Islam promotes women’s education while enforcing strict dress codes for them,” Afzal Ashraf told France 24. Lecturer in International Relations and Security at the University of Loughborough. “But most have a more traditional approach. They want women to stay indoors, to educate young girls with a constant desire to change the beliefs and customs of their people.”
The researcher also argues that leadership is not central to the Taliban. The political weight of the various factions also changes depending on the alliance. “Their influence is proportional to military power, based on the number of men following a Taliban leader rather than on religious grounds.” A complexity that no doubt explains the repeated flip-flops and political vagueness since the Taliban came to power.
“Don’t punish all Afghans”
For many observers of Afghan society, the West should not expect commitments from the Kabul gentlemen on education or tie humanitarian aid to the uncertain policies of the new Afghan executive unless the urgency is different. “Shouldn’t we save women’s lives before we take care of their education? Without this help, Afghan women and their babies will die Afsal Ashraf.
“Don’t punish all Afghans for abuses by the Taliban,” HRW pleads. “Afghanistan is suffering from a humanitarian crisis, largely due to the decisions of donors, particularly the United States. Taliban abuses must not hamper donor efforts to contain the humanitarian crisis and unblock the Afghan economy.”