afghan-womens-protest-highlights-a-desire-for-more-aidOn August 13, 2022, Afghan women in the capital city of Kabul gathered in front of the education ministry building, to protest human rights abuses by the Taliban including depriving women of the ability to work and participate in politics. They were also aiming to secure more aid and support from nations abroad. The Taliban swiftly responded by chasing and beating the female protestors. The international community, including the U.N. and human rights groups, have condemned the Taliban’s repression of women’s rights.

The Current Situation

The Afghan women’s protest was motivated, in part, by a desire for more humanitarian aid to be distributed to the 24 million Afghans in need. As of August 15, 2022, approximately 20 million of these Afghans are at critical risk of starvation and an estimated 1.1 million Afghan children may face severe malnutrition this year. Drought conditions and a spiraling economy have only exacerbated these issues. Furthermore, the Taliban have restricted women’s right to work and closed school to most girls after the sixth grade. As a result of these restrictions on women, Afghanistan has lost upwards of $1 billion. The government budget this year is a fraction of the 2020 budget and the economy has become increasingly dependent on foreign aid to fund public spending.

The Response from Other Countries

The deteriorating human rights situation in Afghanistan, especially for women and girls, has led to increased foreign intervention. For example, the U.S. has admitted more than 81,000 Afghans since the Taliban regained control over the country. Furthermore, on August 12, 2022, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced a $30 million commitment in support of gender equality and female empowerment in Afghanistan. This money will also be allocated to organizations seeking to advance women’s rights in Afghanistan. However, the Afghan women’s protest shows that these efforts have been too far and in between and highlights the dire need for more international partnership on these issues.

The Efforts of International Organizations

The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan has also prompted aid from international organizations. In fact, since the Taliban takeover, U.N. agencies have stayed in Afghanistan and provided aid to nearly 23 million people. Moreover, on June 10, 2022, the U.K. provided donations to The World Food Programme (WFP), which allowed the organization to aid 17 million Afghans through cash transfers and food and nutrition support. This helped families address their most urgent needs by putting food on the table.

The Road Ahead

Afghanistan has been plagued by violence and anguish for decades now. Many children and young adults do not know of an Afghanistan that is not war-torn and barren. They do not know of the nation that was on its way to international prominence – this might be the greatest tragedy of all. Despite the havoc caused by the withdrawal of U.S. forces, humanitarian agencies such as the WFP have stayed in the country. Countries, such as the U.S. and the U.K., continue to provide aid to the Afghans in a pragmatic manner. Although this is indicative of the international community’s determination to help Afghans, as the women’s protest has emphasized, there is still a considerable amount of work left to do.

Abdullah Dowaihy
Photo: Flickr

Afghanistan’s Humanitarian CrisisAfter nearly two decades, the Afghanistan War ended in August 2021, when United States forces evacuated the country. For the nearly 40.9 million Afghans left behind, the rippling impacts of the war have created a devastating crisis. Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis has made nearly every aspect of life take a turn for the worst under the rule of the Taliban. Crucially, this includes economic struggles, which then affect access to food and healthcare.

Part of the reason for the harsh and sudden economic downturn for Afghanistan came as a result of the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021. Since then, most foreign aid has been revoked, including from sources such as:

  • The United States
  • The World Bank
  • The International Monetary Fund
  • The Asian Development Bank

As a result, nearly $2 billion in aid has been stopped, causing the economy to collapse, as prior to this, Afghanistan was nearly dependent on foreign aid.

Humanitarian Crisis

The economic collapse was the result of multiple failures or setbacks Afghanistan faced in recent years. Drought, the COVID-19 pandemic and conflicts all came to a head with the Taliban takeover. Food insecurity has been at the forefront of the humanitarian crisis plaguing the Middle Eastern country.

According to the World Food Programme, 95% of Afghans are food insecure as of January 2022. Drought and rising food prices in the last year have increased the severity of food insecurity, which is now up 14 points from 81% the year before.

Food insecurity isn’t due to a lack of food in the country and is rather due to a lack of economic security. As of 2020, 85% of Afghans did not have a bank account. In the current crisis, humanitarian aid is not enough. Afghans need access to secure finances to lift themselves out of poverty and to allow them to purchase food and other necessities.

However, Afghanistan’s Central Bank’s credentials are not recognized internationally, which essentially renders it useless as a financial institution. This is a security measure, as there are fears that the Taliban could use any money for their own purposes. However, the group Human Rights Watch writes of a way to legitimize the Central Bank without giving funds indirectly to the Taliban, in a practice called “ringfencing.”

A Human Rights Watch article stated the ways to protect money going into Afghanistan. By “(ensuring that bank leaders have sole and independent authorities and credentials), put in place independent auditors to monitor the bank’s transactions internationally and domestically and ensure that assets made available are being used for legitimate central banking functions and humanitarian and commercial purposes.”

Measures to ease the burden of the economic crisis will go a long way to aid Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.

Digital Payments

One creative attempt to relieve the financial woes felt by Afghans is the use of digital payments. The Center for Global Development released a brief in May 2022 on the potential impact of digital payments on Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis.

Digital payments do not include cryptocurrency, though it doesn’t exclude the possibility. They work similar to apps like Venmo or CashApp, where money goes directly to consumers and then to the places they do business. The rise of technology like QR codes has made digital payments even more accessible.

In a country similar to Afghanistan, digital payments are seen as a way to alleviate economic hardship without inadvertently giving money to the Taliban, or paying the Taliban to regulate financial institutions. Instead, security measures including biometric data on smartphones or customer due diligence protocols. The protocols are already in place for digital payments used by non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which often utilize digital payments for salaries in the countries they operate in.

The benefit of digital payments is the traceability, unlike bank notes. However, one potential disadvantage is that many Afghan women do not have access to smartphones or are illiterate, which would be a greater barrier to the effective use of digital payments.

There are various digital payment platforms that have already shown success. Fintech for International Development partnered with several NGOs to launch “Lotus20”, which had a successful pilot program in Kenya. In Afghanistan, the platform seeing success is “HesabPay”, which has partnered with more than 4,000 Afghan merchants to accept digital payments.

A Look Ahead

Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis is rapidly growing and will continue to get worse. There are a plethora of other issues contributing to the total devastation and yet so many can be traced back to economic pitfalls. Digital payments have the potential to help Afghans regain control of their finances and lives in a time of near constant crisis.

Emma Rushworth
Photo: Wikimedia Commons