Afghans say Taliban are too busy policing women to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe that could leave half the country hungry this winter

Children are seen running in the middle of a cluster of tents and gravel roads.

Afghan children play in Saray Shamali camp in Kabul on November 2, 2021. HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP via Getty Images

  • Three months after the Taliban regime, 22.8 million Afghans could face acute hunger this winter, the UN said.

  • The Taliban have been cut from $ 9.5 billion ($ 13 billion) in assets and loans. Unemployment is widespread.

  • The Taliban “occupy” women’s daily activities while failing to meet basic needs, Afghan women said in a recent viral video.

Last month, Zahra Mohammadi, a doctor in Kabul, urged a small cadre of other professional women to assemble their extra coats and winter clothes.

They ordered a minibus and the plan was to deliver the items to a temporary camp of displaced Afghans on the northern outskirts of Afghanistan’s capital. Every family head could come and get what they needed.

“We knew we did not have much ourselves, but we had to do something,” said Mohammadi from his busy clinic. (The Taliban have forced some women to quit their jobs, but female doctors continue to work.) “Some people felt bad about giving clothes they had worn once or twice, but we said to them, ‘It is “Okay, these people have nothing.” ”

But when they arrived at the park, it quickly became clear that they had miscalculated not only the extent of the need, but also how complex it would be to distribute the warm clothing.

“Some families had tents, but so many others had gathered the fabric they could find to hang over their heads as shelter,” Mohammadi said.

Lots of people started rushing towards their minibus. Mohammadi and the others tried to stay calm while handing things out, but people ran towards the car as fast as they could, reaching out for anything within their reach and asking for help.

A woman with a covered face holds a small child while others walk by.

A woman holds a child in the camp set up by displaced Afghans in Kabul’s Saray Shamali district on November 2, 2021. HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP via Getty Images

When Mohammadi noticed that the situation was getting out of control, Mohammadi asked the driver to go, “Even then we just saw these boys and men chasing our car, some hanging on the sides, I do not know what they were hoping to achieve, ”she said.

Mohammadi and her colleagues shot one video accuses the Taliban of being too “obsessed” with criminalizing women’s daily activities to address the country’s basic needs. The video quickly circulated widely among Afghans.

“They have made it their mission to go after women. We are all they talk about. Our clothes, our shoes, our fragrance, our work, our school, they spend so much time dictating our lives,” Mohammadi said during a phone interview the next day. “They spend so much of their time worrying about us women when they could help the millions in need.”

She had to pause the interview a few times as she juggled her formal and informal roles. For a moment, she asked a nurse about a patient’s discharge papers. Next, one could hear her greet female visitors who had come to talk about another plan to help Afghans in need.

In the three months that have passed since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the economy has been crippled.

Dozens of people lost their jobs overnight, and even more have not received a paycheck. To prevent a run on banks, financial institutions have limited withdrawals to $ US400 ($ AU544), and on most days the queues are hundreds of people deep. The UN warns that 22.8 million Afghans – over half the population – are facing acute hunger between now and March.

“A humanitarian catastrophe threatens”

Before the Taliban captured Kabul on August 15 and ended its tour of the country as U.S. troops prepared to end their 20-year war, Afghanistan’s western-backed governments were backed by two decades of foreign aid.

Half a dozen veiled and covered women stand in line, while several men with uncovered faces handle food donations.

A line at the World Food Programs food distribution site in Kabul on November 6, 2021. HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP via Getty Images

Just two weeks after the Taliban took power, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that “a humanitarian catastrophe is threatening” the country.

Since then, these warnings have only become more serious. The World Food Program says Afghanistan is becoming the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with 8.7 million people facing famine emergencies this winter. The World Health Organization said 3.2 million children are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition in Afghanistan by the end of this year.

In the three months since President Ashraf Ghani fled the country and the Taliban’s exclusively male administration took over, the United States and international organizations have cut off Afghanistan’s access to $ 9.5 billion ($ 13 billion) in assets and loans.

Even Afghans with funds are under pressure as the rules on bank withdrawals and the declining value of Afghan currency, Afghanistan’s currency, have led to a severe cash squeeze across the country.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has said Western nations should do away with their promised aid immediately.

A large number of men are queuing outdoors in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Afghan men wait outside a bank in Kabul on September 22, 2021. Oliver Weiken / photo alliance via Getty Images

“Winter is around the corner, so there is an immediate need for the international community to immediately pay out the recently announced nearly € 1 billion aid package promised to all poor, vulnerable and displaced people,” Shaheen told the media last month. .

Meanwhile, the Taliban launched a work-for-wheat scheme, but then grim jokes began to spread on social media and messaging apps saying “wheat” has replaced Afghanistan as Afghanistan’s natural currency.

‘I do not know how long I can keep things going’

The crisis extends far beyond the capital.

Near the Tajik-Afghan border in Badakhshan province, one of Afghanistan’s coldest areas, people are struggling to buy wood and coal to heat their homes. The prices of these things traditionally rise every year as the temperature drops, which people manage by taking out loans. But this year, like millions of other Afghans, they have to wonder how they will fare in the cold months.

Farhan Hotak, a vlogger who had recently traveled to the area, said Badakshis in the border regions now “live on limited resources.” In the past, people were able to secure loans from relatives and neighbors in order to survive, but Hotak said it has largely come to an end as people struggle to support their own families.

“No one can afford to borrow money anymore,” Hotak from Tajikistan said.

The region is heavily dependent on cross-border trade, which has been disrupted by diplomatic spit since Tajikistan has refused to recognize the Islamic Emirate as Afghanistan’s legitimate government, and the Taliban accuse Tajikistan of housing resistance forces in the northern province of Panjshir.

“People used to trade in buying and selling between each other, but it came to an end after the Taliban took power,” Hotak said.

Two men are seen working in the middle of piles of coal.

Afghan men work at a coal market in Kabul on October 17, 2021. Saifurahman Safi / Xinhua via Getty Images

Hotak says businessmen in the provincial capital of Faizabad are also struggling. He said he met dozens of entrepreneurs who had left the city and were on their way to Tajikistan in hopes of making some money.

In Kabul, hundreds of offices and businesses are closed.

Nawab Niazi, the owner of a textile factory, says he previously employed 70 to 80 people, but now he can only afford to pay 10 or 12 people and for reduced wages.

“I do not know how long I can keep things going. When we run out of cash, we have no choice but to close,” he said in an interview. friends who have spent the last three months in unemployment, he estimates that 90 to 95 percent of the people he knows in the capital are now unemployed.

Niazi says Afghan business owners are facing enormous pressure to stay open, but without easy access to their bank accounts, they cannot pay their employees or their suppliers.

“We’re burning through our reserves. Once it’s gone, I will not be able to pay anyone at all,” Niazi said.

In recent years, the public sector has been one of the largest employers. But wages were dependent on foreign aid, and now many government employees have not been paid for months.

The security forces and several ministries operate with a minimum capacity, if at all. Hundreds of people who worked as bodyguards, drivers and cleaning assistants for the previous government are now also unemployed.

A bunch of boys are seen playing football in a crowded, open park.

Afghan boys play in Chaman-e-Hozori Park in Kabul on November 12, 2021. HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP via Getty Images

While unemployment is a problem throughout Afghanistan, it used to be that women could work and contribute to the family income. This, says Mohammadi, has only exacerbated the nation’s economic problems.

One of the Taliban’s first actions was to transform the Ministry of Women’s Affairs back into the Ministry of Dissemination of Virtue and Prevention of Violence, which watchdog groups such as Human Rights Watch had once condemned as “a notorious symbol of arbitrary abuse, especially against women and girls.”

But another victim of the shift was that the old ministry had employed hundreds of women, many of whom were the sole breadwinners of their families. Similarly, female judges, teachers, journalists and office workers found themselves unemployed overnight.

“Those women are now at home wondering how to feed their families,” Mohammadi said.

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