Open Letter to the Secretary General, Heads of UN Agencies & International Donor Community

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    Open Letter to the Secretary General, Heads of UN Agencies & International Donor Community

    Former UN Women staff members Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, Roberta Clarke and Meryem Aslan, together with women leaders and advocates from civil society organisations write to alert the international community to the urgency of preventing a human catastrophe in Afghanistan.

    By Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, Roberta Clarke and Meryem Aslan

    We are former UN officials with decades of combined experience supporting international civil society and governments to advance the rights of women and girls.

    We came together to alert the United Nations and the international community to the urgency of preventing a human catastrophe in Afghanistan. Afghan women and men must not be condemned to yet another decade of regionalism/ sectarianism/tribalism and proxy wars.

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    The UN needs to step up its game, offer to facilitate a platform for inclusive leadership in the country that can bring Afghans together, and work together with them to prevent reemergence of proxy wars, building a road towards international consensus for peace and security.

    The international community must ensure that Afghans, especially Afghan women and girls, participate on equal terms in the making of their country, re-establishing human rights monitoring mechanisms and, as a matter of urgency, accessing and monitoring distribution of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.

    As Naheed Farid, a Parliamentarian and House Chair of the Women’s Committee in Afghanistan said: “Action needs to be taken to ensure that the de facto authorities in Kabul develop an inclusive and fully representative governance body that represents the diversity of Afghan society.”

    We encourage negotiations that create space for Afghan people, including women and girls, to take their destiny into their own hands. We also endorse the call for Afghan women’s centrality in decision-making on global aid made by Margot Wallstrom and Susana Malcorra on 4 November in PassBlue.

    Life for Afghans, especially Afghan women and girls, has been insecure, dangerous, and constrained for decades. Armed conflict and militarism have stalled all prospects of development and peace for Afghanistan. Women and girls have been and remain the target of violent discrimination.

    The 2020 Human Development Index for Afghanistan indicates that gender inequalities in health, education and control over economic resources remains high, ranking Afghanistan 157th among 162 countries in the gender inequality index.

    The seizure of state power by the Taliban, the partial collapse of state services compounded by the recent measures to limit education for girls and remove women from the workforce, the increased retreat of women into their homes portends serious deterioration of women’s rights in Afghanistan and further widening of gender inequality in the country.

    While Taliban are working to transform themselves from a radical movement into a legitimate state structure and try to govern the country, ethnic, communal and regional factions are starting to vie for power.

    For example, on 8 October, the Islamic State Khorasan bombing in a Shiite Mosque in Kunduz province killed close to 70 people and injured 140 worshippers from a Hazara community. This was the second attack on a Shiite Mosque in one week. Earlier, the same group attacked a military hospital in Kabul, killing 20 people and injuring 16.

    Testing the limits of Taliban governance, food and water shortages plague isolated communities and urban centers alike. A thirty year-drought, widespread displacement, lack of jobs and scarce cash have spun the economy into free fall as another brutal winter sets in. No information is available on the real costs of the Covid-19 pandemic. Recognizing Afghanistan’s rapidly deteriorating conditions, UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, noted that the international community is in a “race against time” to prevent an impending humanitarian catastrophe.

    Conditionality imposed by the international community for releasing aid may have already deepened the scale of human suffering. In addition, delivery of aid seems to becoming an important issue. Despite the promises of Taliban to allow humanitarian agencies to operate, USAID reports that at least two-thirds of aid organizations in Afghanistan have faced severe bottlenecks in aid delivery since the fall of Kabul.

    Access to aid by to those who need it most may be the first casualty of a collapsing state. Food and supplies trickling into the country have been diverted to the black market by local power brokers. Almost no information is available on household distribution of aid or the amount and quality of aid reaching the Afghan people.

    This situation leaves women and girls increasingly vulnerable to abuse and violence. As in many humanitarian emergencies, civil society monitors report that food aid is appropriated to exchange for sexual favors or child “marriages,” as desperate families bargain for survival. Single mothers are not recognized as heads-of-household by local authorities and therefore are likely to face barriers in accessing humanitarian assistance.

    Exhaustive global research over decades has documented that aid delivered to women by women most effectively reduces “leakage,” ensuring that assistance reaches the most vulnerable groups. Afghan women are best placed to ensure that food and other humanitarian assistance reach children, the disabled and elderly, and especially female-headed households.

    However, in addition to restrictions on women’s access to education and employment, the backsliding and regression on women’s and girls’ right can most strikingly be observed in their participation in decision-making mechanisms.

    The Taliban’s formation of an all-male interim administration have eliminated women’s hard-won if still limited leadership roles in the executive and judiciary at all levels of government. Women’s equal participation in political and public life is not only a prerequisite for realizing a life free of violence and discrimination, but also for increasing the quality of development and aid and ensuring equal access to the benefits of aid.

    We recognize that efforts of the last twenty years resulted in limited advances for most Afghan women and girls. The bulk of resources in the country went to the military investment and much aid was siphoned off by excessive corruption. . Yet good progress was made in opening up educational opportunities for girls and livelihood options for women.

    Even more lasting is the dynamic network of women’s civil society organizations, sports, scientific, media and cultural groups that were built over the past twenty years. Resilient women and girls have fought against biases, even faced down stone-throwing crowds, to build their bicycle racing teams, their robotics organizations and women’s radio stations.

    They run shelters for women expelled from their homes and promote females’ participation at all levels of government. Now, a generation of women and girls that entered public life as teachers, lawyers, journalists and politicians are feeling at a loss and in danger; they are afraid of losing the future.

    We cannot be silent as this progress is walked back. Women’s and girls’ futures must not become casualties of the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan. The safety of hundreds of women’s human rights defenders, judges, politicians, physicians, professors, journalists and artists who are still in Afghanistan must be prioritized and they must be at the table in aid and political negotiations, putting aid distribution systems in place, monitoring delivery and building inclusive governance systems.

    Humanitarian aid to stabilize the population will only be effective if women civil society leaders are positioned to monitor secure and timely distribution, and the inclusion of women must be top priority of aid and governance negotiations with the Taliban. The United Nations and the international donor community are morally obligated to ensure Afghan women’s access to humanitarian assistance, and time is running out.
    Signed By: Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, Roberta Clarke, Meryem Aslan, Moni Pizani Orsini, Madhu Bala Nath, Joanne Sandler, Roshmi Goswami, Socorro Reyes, Anne Stenhammer, Yamini Mishra, Lucia Salamea-Palacios, Roxanna Carillo, Susana Fried, Dina Deligiorgis, Bharati Silawal-Giri, Amarsanaa Darisuren, Sushma Kapoor, Chandni Joshi, Suneeta Dhar, Stephanie Urdang, Aster Zaoude, Achola Pala, Celia Aguilar Setien, Anne Marie Goetz, Elizabeth Cox, Nalini Burn, Ana Falu, Ilana Landsberg Lewis, Branca Moreira Alves, Memory Zonde-Kachambwa, Sangeeta Rana Thapa, Shawna Wakefield, Flora Macula, Guadalupe Espinosa, Ooyuna Oidov, Jean da Cunha

    Rebecca Reichmann Tavares, Roberta Clarke and Meryem Aslan are former UN Women staff members

    This piece has been sourced from Inter Press Service

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