US agency warns of Afghan famine, more suppression of women’s rights

Afghan girls aged 5 to 12 in Nowzad, Afghanistan, attend a class June 8, 2010. They have only one teacher and only attend school regularly for 3 hours a day. In a report published last week, rights group Amnesty International said Afghan women and girls faced a “suffocating” crackdown by Taliban authorities, restricting their rights to freedom of movement and education. and leading to increased rates of forced marriage of girls. (Shawn Coolman/US Marines)

KABUL, Afghanistan – Millions of Afghans are expected to experience “extreme levels of hunger” in the coming months, while foreign aid agencies here face a significant drop in food and emergency supplies due lack of funding, according to a report released late Monday by the US Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

The watchdog said the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan remained “severe”, with 18.9 million people facing “life-threatening” hunger and up to 6 million in “near starvation conditions”. But he said emergency aid was expected to fall sharply until November, reaching just 8% of the population, as insufficient foreign funds were given to relief agencies including UNICEF and the Food Programme. global.

The report, which comes nearly a year after the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, also warned that the plight of Afghan women continues to worsen since Taliban extremists returned to power last August. The inspector general’s quarterly assessment, which previously focused on fraud, waste and other issues related to the US military and civilian engagement in Afghanistan, this time singled out the Taliban’s repression of women as a major concern.

This warning echoed new alarms raised by other international agencies about the deteriorating conditions of Afghan women. Last month, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan strongly condemned a series of Taliban policies that it said “effectively make women invisible”.

In another report released last week, rights group Amnesty International said Afghan women and girls were facing a “suffocating” repression by the Taliban authorities, restricting their rights to freedom of movement and education and leading to increased rates of forced marriage of girls.

The Inspector General’s report opens with a long section titled “Taliban Repression of Women and Girls Escalates”. He criticized Taliban officials for backtracking on promises to restore women’s freedoms – in particular the regime’s “brutal” reversal in March of its announced plan to reopen shuttered girls’ high schools.

This reversal, which some analysts have attributed to internal disagreements between Taliban leaders, has further dashed international hopes of a serious change in Taliban attitudes. Since then, the report notes, Taliban authorities have issued numerous rules that further restrict women’s rights to engage in activities outside the home.

In May, a decree from the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice – a once feared entity during the early period of the Taliban regime – stipulated that women should wear a burqa or cover their faces when in public, and that it would be “best” for them not to leave the house at all. Another decree prohibited women from traveling long distances by road and air unless chaperoned by a male relative. A third required TV presenters to cover their faces on air.

So far, these rules have not been regularly enforced through corporal punishment, as was common during the previous era of the Taliban in the late 1990s. Taliban officials described them as “guidance” rather only as binding orders. They have also repeatedly stated that they will guarantee all women’s rights in accordance with Islamic Sharia and that foreigners have no right to interfere in Afghan religious and social traditions.

The issues of continued humanitarian suffering and restrictions on women’s rights in Afghanistan are intertwined. The impoverished country of 39 million people has suffered a devastating economic decline since August last year, when Taliban forces seized power, prompting the withdrawal of most foreign aid and the seizure by the United States. United over $9 billion in Afghan assets.

Legal exemptions allowed some funds to reach foreign aid groups, but they met only a small fraction of needs. According to the Inspector General’s report, Afghans will face an almost 60% increase in food insecurity this fall compared to the same period last year. He said the United Nations was seeking to raise $4.4 billion for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and nearly half has been pledged, but only $601 million has been confirmed.

Wahidullah Amani, spokesman for the World Food Program in Kabul, said the agency needed to raise $900 million to continue operating for the next six months, before winter snows block roads to impoverished rural provinces. The group organizes frequent distributions of wheat, beans and cooking oil in Kabul and other cities, where long queues form early and last all day.

One of the main demands of donors and foreign governments is that the Taliban, desperate for international recognition and the restoration of aid, must prove that they will respect women’s rights, as well as human rights in general. While some colleges are open to women under strict gender segregation and girls can study up to sixth grade, the continued lack of access to jobs, education and public activities has been particularly frustrating for Afghan women who have studied, worked and participated in public life during two decades of civilian rule.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking in Washington on Thursday at the launch of a consultation program with Afghan women’s groups, said the Taliban had ‘reversed much of the openness and progress’ made in recent years, stifling civil society and the press. “Perhaps most notably, they failed to respect the human rights of women and girls,” he said. “Instead, under the Taliban, women and girls have been largely barred from public life.”

Blinken said the Taliban’s decision in March to ban girls from secondary school – even as some “literally walked to school and others were already sitting at their desks” – was a “return of the commitments they had made to the Afghan people and to the world. . . . It’s a terrible, terrible mess. He said US officials “will continue to urge the Taliban to reverse their decision.”

In Kabul and other cities, women activists have tried to fight back, staging numerous protests against the new restrictions, but some rallies have been cracked down by police and none have made concrete progress. On the streets of the capital, women can shop with only their heads covered and there are no signs of armed Taliban enforcing morality. But in rural areas, rights groups have reported that Taliban officials apply harsh punishments – including whippings and stonings – to girls or women who run away, flee violent homes, challenge marriages coerced or had illicit sex.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, in a June report, described incidents of “cruel and degrading” punishments by the Taliban for moral offenses in rural provinces, similar to those inflicted in the past. In one case, a man and a woman were reportedly stoned to death in Badakhshan province for having an extramarital affair.

Another blow to hopes for women’s rights came in June, when Taliban officials held a consultation on national issues with 4,500 clerics and tribal leaders. They did not allow women to participate, saying they would be represented by male delegates. The Inspector General’s report says that while some participants supported getting girls back to school, there was no formal discussion or recommendation on the matter.

Deborah Lyons, the UN special representative in Afghanistan until June, appealed to the international community to pursue a “strategy of engagement” with the Taliban in order to persuade her authorities that a system which excludes women and minorities “will not last”. But the inspector general’s report says the Taliban’s recent actions make it unlikely that an international carrot-and-stick effort will succeed.

“Unfortunately,” the report concludes, “neither growing international isolation, nor worsening economic and health crises, nor the growing desperation of ordinary Afghans appear to have deterred the Taliban from reinstating many of their repressive 1990s policies. “.