The United Nations has cut its annual aid budget plan for Afghanistan by a third after the Taliban banned women from working for aid organisations.
The reduction of $1.4 billion – ten per cent of Afghanistan’s GDP – will hit the country’s economy and aid programmes hard in “the largest humanitarian crisis” on earth.
The development follows a report by Tortoise on UN agencies including the WFP, Unicef and the WHO, which have bowed to extreme gender-based restrictions preventing local women from working for their organisations, violating the UN charter.
Last month, Tortoise spoke to Afghan female staff members who said their UN compounds had been infiltrated by informants who took pictures of them and followed them home. The lack of female staff means that it is almost impossible to get aid to more than half the population.
“The recent bans on Afghan women working for…NGOs and the UN have added yet another layer of complexity to what is already an incredibly challenging protection environment and further constrained the operational capacity of partners,” the UN said in a statement.
The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance in 2023 increased from 28.3 million in January to 28.8 million people in June, according to the UN’s humanitarian coordination body OCHA.
“The space is closing for female staff. This means that we can’t actually implement as many of the protection activities,” one UN staff member in Kabul said. “That doesn’t mean that there are fewer people in need but just that there are fewer response options. There is actually a greater number of people in need”.
For example, OCHA states in its revised budget plan that despite 3 million more women being in need of protection against gender-based violence, the Taliban restrictions on female staff working for NGOs have “significantly hindered” delivery of services.
This has led to a reduction in the target budget for protecting against gender-based violence of 40 per cent – the highest cut of all the UN humanitarian aid clusters.
News of the reduced funding came as one of the “last remnants” of schooling provided for hundreds of thousands of girls in Afghanistan was torn up by the Taliban.
Before the return of the Taliban, community education programmes were set up across the country to give girls in remote communities accelerated classes so they could compete with boys in secondary school.
These programmes managed to survive a wave of more than 40 edicts since Kabul fell in August 2021 aimed at removing women from public life, often through careful negotiations with local Taliban leaders.
But last week, Tortoise has learnt, the Taliban’s leader issued a proclamation banning international organisations from working in education, meaning that more than half a million children – primarily girls – could potentially lose out on an education, according to Unicef figures.
In a statement, Unicef, the lead UN agency for education in Afghanistan, said it was “engaged in a constructive discussion” with the de-facto Ministry of Education to hand over programmes to national NGOs.
Last weekend, nearly 80 girls were poisoned and hospitalised in two separate attacks at their primary schools in the north of the country. It was reportedly the first attack of its kind since US and UK forces evacuated Kabul two years ago.
Unicef said that they were “deeply concerned” about the reported attack and that “schools should be havens of safety where children learn free from fear”.
In neighbouring Iran, up to 7,000 schoolgirls have been poisoned at dozens of schools since November 2022 according to human rights groups and government organisations.
Photograph Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images