The German government is planning to suspend financial aid to Afghanistan after the Taliban banned women from working for NGOs in the country on December 24.
The decision by the Taliban has led many humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan to stop operations, as they say their female staff is essential to their work.
"By banning the employment of female staff of nongovernmental organizations, the Taliban in Afghanistan have struck an irresponsible blow against aid to the Afghan people," German Development Minister Svenja Schulze said in a statement. "Without female employees, organizations cannot continue their work in many areas for half the population."
This "completely new situation," as Schulze described it, meant that her ministry and the World Bank would invite stakeholders in the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund, which coordinates international relief for the country, to discuss whether and how to continue humanitarian efforts in the country.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock — an advocate of "feminist foreign policy" — also expressed her condemnation of the Taliban. "We will not accept that the #Taliban make humanitarian aid a pawn in their contempt for women," she tweeted on December 25. "They are robbing half the population of another basic right, breaking humanitarian principles, and jeopardizing vital humanitarian care."
Taliban's ban to have 'a catastrophic effect' on all aid programs
The Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief & Development, an umbrella organization for 183 local and international aid groups, said many of its members had already suspended their operations, and that "greater clarity for such a drastic measure is needed and dialogue with the authorities will be pursued."
The German NGO Welthungerhilfe (WHH), active in Afghanistan since 1980, said it had also suspended its work and warned that the Taliban's latest measure would have "a catastrophic effect" on all aid programs.
WHH General Secretary Mathias Mogge said it had received €12 million ($12.7 million) from the German government this year for food distribution and relief work in Afghanistan and that the Taliban's decision had left them with a dilemma. "I hope that this is only a very temporary situation and that we are able to go back to our work," he told DW.
He added that male aid workers alone have no chance of carrying out the WHH's work.
"No men are allowed to access households. So without female staff, it is almost impossible to reach the most vulnerable people in the community, and they are women, who are often confined to their houses," he said. "Female aid workers can see how many women are living in a household, they can check what kind of harsh cases there are: Are there children who are sick? Are there pregnant women? They collect a lot of extremely important information so that we can have an adequate response."
Mogge said the situation was already difficult enough for the WHH's female aid workers in the country, many of whom are Afghan nationals. "Women are subject to harassment, unnecessary controls, or they are arrested," he said. "Women also need to be escorted by a man."
Humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is bleak
More than a year after the Taliban regained control of the country, the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan remains catastrophic. According to the WHH, 28.3 million people in the country, over two-thirds of the population, are dependent on humanitarian aid. At least 20 million are threatened with starvation.
According to the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany has long been the second-largest donor after the United States, contributing up to €430 million annually.
Stefan Recker, the Afghanistan country representative for the German aid organization Caritas, said it remained unclear what Development Minister Schulze's statement actually entails, given that the German government does not officially cooperate with the Taliban to provide development aid. But he said there is some financial aid from the German government that could be frozen for the time being.
Recker explained that Caritas had, for safety reasons, told all its female employees not to come to work after the decree was announced. But he also suggested that much aid work could continue despite the ban — as it does not apply to medical projects. Recker said Caritas, which concentrates on emergency aid rather than development aid, would be keeping its three medical aid programs running.
He also said some organizations would find it easier to pause activities than others, such as those which distribute seeds, which need to be sown at a specific time.
A lot of Caritas' work will be able to continue one way or another, according to Recker. "About 80,000 people depend on this work, we can't just abandon it," he told DW from his office in Kabul. "Pausing the work is possible, but we can't just stop indefinitely."
Recker was also cautiously optimistic about the general situation after a year-and-a-half of Taliban rule. "The situation was much bleaker last December," he said. "A year ago, everyone thought the country would collapse completely, people would starve in the streets. Then international aid organizations made a decisive intervention and prevented a total catastrophe. Of course, we should try and help Afghanistan to stand on its own feet. But how that might be done I have no idea."
Edited by: Rina Goldenberg
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