Programs in Afghanistan
Three NGOs resumed programs in Afghanistan after an order from Taliban authorities on December 24, 2022, prevented women from working in non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Organizations like Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and CARE have now restarted work across the country.

The order for both foreign and local NGOs to suspend female staff came after the Taliban claimed that female aid workers were not adhering to the strict dress code currently enforced in Afghanistan. As Taliban rules dictate that men must not deliver assistance to women, the ban has made it extremely difficult for NGOs to work, as they can only effectively support half the population. As a result, most NGOs have now suspended operations in Afghanistan.

Humanitarian Programs Resume

However, three weeks after the Taliban announced the orders, Save the Children, the IRC and CARE resumed their health and nutrition services after receiving assurances from the Ministry of Public Health that it would be safe for their female staff to return to work. Save the Children has also confirmed that it is restarting some education programs, while the IRC is working with provincial authorities to discuss the possibility of female staff returning to work in other sectors.

This week, the U.N.’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Martin Griffiths, also confirmed that Taliban ministers were in the process of drawing up new guidelines to allow some humanitarian organizations to employ Afghani women. Mr. Griffiths told the BBC that he thought the Taliban were “listening” and had received “encouraging responses” after numerous meetings with Taliban leaders to discuss the ban on female NGO workers.

Restrictions on Women’s Rights and the Humanitarian Crisis

The Taliban’s ban on female NGO workers is just one of the numerous restrictions placed on women in the country since they came into power in 2021. Driven by an oppressive and patriarchal interpretation of Islam, the Jihadist group has undone much of the previous efforts to liberalize the country in years before their takeover. Women in Afghanistan are currently subject to strict dress codes, unable to attend schools or universities and cannot enter certain public spaces such as gyms or parks.

Women are witnessing the loss of their liberties and autonomy amid an unprecedented humanitarian emergency. With 18.9 million people experiencing food insecurity, an extraordinary amount of people are set to suffer from malnutrition, starvation and preventable diseases this year. In light of this, the need for NGOs to provide aid and address inequalities is more prevalent than ever.

NGOs Helping

As NGOs resume programs in Afghanistan, services from Save the Children, the IRC and CARE in Afghanistan will hopefully provide some relief during this humanitarian crisis. Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Save the Children has provided more than 3.3 million people (1.8 million of those being children) with nutritional, educational and mental health services, as well as essential aid such as blankets, materials to build shelters and hygiene products.

The IRC has also provided aid to thousands of villages across nine provinces in Afghanistan. It is currently supporting more than 100 health centers, helping locals with community development projects and improving access to education, particularly in rural areas. The organization is also leading the fight to protect and empower women and girls in the country by providing them with education opportunities, giving advice on women’s health and teaching them advocacy skills in its Afghan Women and Girls Program.

CARE runs three programs in Afghanistan. Its Resilience Program works to protect women’s social and political rights and seeks to promote female engagement in business, for instance through agricultural production. Its Education Program also provides children with access to education through a community-based approach, whilst its Health Equity and Rights Program provides health care to vulnerable adults and children.

While some of these services are still under suspension due to the ban, the resumption of programs in Afghanistan in the health and nutrition sector is bringing some hope and optimism to a struggling country. With continuing negotiations between the U.N. and the Taliban to try and reverse the decrees restricting women’s rights, it is vital that people continue to support NGOs in the hope that more humanitarian sectors will start to open up for women to work in.

– Priya Thakkar
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Syria
With a population of 18.4 million people, Syria ranked as a rapidly developing mid-sized country before the Syrian civil war broke out. Today, 11.7 million Syrian people have experienced displacement from their homes. Schools, health care facilities and small businesses have suffered greatly. As a result, the Syrian economy has collapsed, placing more than half of Syrian people in poverty. Children are at an especially high risk of poverty and displacement. The war has a stranglehold on the Syrian economy. It has caused significant damage to the country’s infrastructure and wreaked havoc on the lives of civilians. However, global aid has significantly improved Syrian peoples’ educational and employment opportunities, as well as access to food, water, shelter and health care. Here are 10 facts about poverty in Syria.

10 Facts About Poverty in Syria

  1. Before the Syrian civil war, the Syrian economy was flourishing. In 2010, right before the start of the Syrian civil war, the World Bank listed Syria as a rapidly-growing middle-income country. In addition, farming, oil, industry and tourism formed the major economic base. Meanwhile, primary and secondary education and health care received state funding. Until 2011, nearly 80 percent of the Syrian economy relied upon small to medium-sized businesses. In 2010, the GDP per capita in Syria was $2,807. Today, the GDP per capita is a mere $870.
  2. Today, the majority of Syrian people live in poverty. Over 80 percent of people in Syria live below the world poverty line, which means that they make less than $1 per day. The economic impact of ongoing conflict has resulted in an unemployment rate of 55 percent or more.
  3. Corruption is prevalent in Syria. Syria ranks fourth on the list of countries with the most corruption in the world. High paying jobs concentrate in Damascus, the country’s capital. It is hard to get a job in the capital without “wasta.” “Wasta” is an Arabic word that translates to “nepotism” or “clout.”
  4. The Syrian civil war interferes with education. The U.N. confirmed 74 strikes on schools and military use of 24 schools from January to June 2019. As a result, fighting has damaged many schools or bombs have demolished them. More than 33 percent of Syria’s children – over 2 million – do not go to school. Around 1.3 million children are at a high chance of withdrawing from school. UNICEF is working to provide education to Syrian children. The organization repairs damaged school buildings, provides at-home learning programs to students in districts where there are no schools and administers teacher-training programs.
  5. The Syrian civil war has impeded health care. Bombing damaged or destroyed many medical facilities. In northwest Syria, 51 medical facilities suffered attacks between January and June 2019. Fifty percent of all health care centers in Syria are only partly operational or are not operating at all. In light of this, many foundations are working in Syria to provide health care. For example, Doctors Without Borders is currently working in Syria, providing outpatient care, assisting with births and administering routine vaccinations.
  6. There is extreme wealth inequality in Syria. Before 2011, Syrian small businesses thrived. However, many shut down in the past decade. A few big business owners have established a monopoly over approximately 75 percent of the economy, though the average Syrian person lives in poverty
  7. Inflation has greatly affected the Syrian population. Syrian currency has depreciated greatly in recent years. The value of the Syrian pound has gone down over 90 percent since 2010. Prices have greatly increased, but salaries have stagnated and jobs are much harder to come by.
  8. Women and children suffer the damages of war. Children must often engage in child labor or marriage, or join the fighting to help their families survive. Additionally, over 60 percent of Syrian refugees are children. Syrian women are at high risk of enduring sexual violence.
  9. Many Syrians flee the country. There are 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, a neighboring country. In Lebanon, around 70 percent of Syrian people live below the poverty line. In Jordan, around 93 percent of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line. Living conditions for Syrian refugees are difficult, but perhaps preferable to the crisis of living in the midst of a civil war.
  10. Foreign aid is helping Syrian citizens. International relief organizations like the IRC, UNICEF and Worldvision provide significant aid to Syria. Currently, the IRC provides support to nearly 1 million people—half of them children. Support includes pop-up health clinics, cash vouchers to obtain food and necessities, child care, job training and psychosocial support for traumatized people. This is often for survivors of violence or sexual assault.

These 10 facts about poverty in Syria show that the current situation in Syria is bleak, as poverty and displacement affect nearly the entire population. However, foreign policy and intervention can help end the war. Additionally, foreign aid can support education, health care and small businesses. Ideally, Syria will stabilize in the years to come.

Elise Ghitman
Photo: Flickr