7 September 2023
Faith organisations are grappling with aid roadblocks in Afghanistan as women’s human rights are erased and the country’s humanitarian crisis deepens.
The United Nations Children’s Fund said more than 28 million people in Afghanistan needed humanitarian and protection assistance amid one of the world’s worst emergencies.
Human rights monitors say the country’s struggles with hunger and drought have worsened since the Taliban took control in 2021 and began systematically crushing women’s basic human rights.
The Taliban’s policies include restricting women’s education, work and livelihood opportunities, freedom of movement and access to services.
Its decision to ban women from working for local and international humanitarian organisations, including UN organisations, sparked widespread condemnation, early this year.
UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell said in a statement the bans further undermined humanitarian relief efforts across Afghanistan, and that more children would die.
The intensifying crisis has driven aid groups, including religious agencies Tearfund and Baptist World Aid to rethink their intervention methods.
Tearfund Australia international partnerships manager Hedda Ngan said news that the health and education sectors were exempted from the women employee bans was an opportunity for many of its partners.
She said the agencies, many of whom were Afghans themselves, already provided assistance in the water, sanitation, small business start-up and mental health space.
Ms Ngan said in order to retain their female staff, reach women in the community and remain within the restrictions, some partners switched their focus to health.
One agency was able to target malnutrition through running a nutrition initiative in health care centres, she said.
Ms Ngan said that enabled it to help pregnant and lactating women and thereby support 3500 women and 4900 children.
The project was approved by the local authorities and the group was asked to expand it to health care centres in other towns, including a major hospital, she said.
It also enabled the organisation to train and employ local women in several roles including project management, nursing and counselling positions.
Baptist World Aid is working with Christian partners whose humanitarian assistance efforts in Afghanistan also include providing primary health care and pregnancy support for women.
Chief executive Melissa Lippett recently posted a reflection on the organisation’s website about its other approach to intervention, advocacy.
But Ms Lippett said responding to polycrisis situations necessitated a more creative tack.
To stay the course as a faith organisation, it was better to advocate in unity with others, Ms Lippett said.
The organisation banded with other Christian groups to push the federal government for an increased emergency response to the situation in Afghanistan.
That included lobbying for further funds to aid the millions there facing starvation.
Started in 2021 as a faith response to the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, coalition, Christians United for Afghanistan includes Anglican, Catholic and Uniting church representatives among more than 14,000 Christians.
The alliance also advocated for Australia to increase its intake of refugees from Afghanistan.
The joint effort has had some success with the Morrison government followed by the Albanese government committing to more than 30,000 places for Afghan refugees, thus far.
To participate in Christians United for Afghanistan advocacy campaigns, see here.
To donate to Tearfund’s efforts in Afghanistan see here.