Afghan women may die because of gender rules blocking UK aid – charity

·3-min read

Many Afghan women could die because of Taliban gender rules blocking UK-funded medical aid, a charity has warned.

Save the Children campaigns director Athena Rayburn told the PA news agency that, under strict regimes imposed by reactionary leaders, girls can only be treated by staff of the same gender, but women have not been guaranteed safety to work in some regions.

Miss Rayburn said charities must secure permission from provincial leaders before their female staff can administer aid in the area, a problem which has also been raised by British charity Afghanaid.

Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan
Save the Children campaigns director Athena Rayburn warned that many Afghan women could die because of Taliban gender rules blocking UK-funded medical aid (PA)

Some 5.5 million people are displaced in Afghanistan and “the vast majority of them” are women and children, Miss Rayburn said.

She told PA: “Even with our mobile health teams, we’re being told that we shouldn’t allow female patients to see male doctors.

“If we can’t ensure the protection for our female staff, those people will not receive services and it will lead to loss of life.

“That’s devastating, and something that’s entirely preventable.”

She added that the health system in Afghanistan has “pretty much collapsed” and Save the Children has seen a huge increase in the number of malnourished children needing urgent care.

Miss Rayburn said: “It’s a really perfect storm of humanitarian catastrophe.

“And it’s certainly getting worse and being compounded by the continuing issues around getting cash into the country.”

Troops in Afghanistan
Children in Afghanistan are at increasing risk of malnutrition (Lewis Whyld/PA)

She said only around 17% of the 2,300 World Bank-funded health facilities in Afghanistan have been operational since the Taliban takeover.

Miss Rayburn said demands from G20 leaders for the Taliban to allow humanitarian access across Afghanistan and keep the country’s borders open are a “step in the right direction” but the UK Government must prioritise education with its funding.

She said: “Typically, in humanitarian budgets, education is not funded because it’s not seen as life-saving.

“From our experience, education is categorically life-saving, and especially for vulnerable groups, such as girls.

“In many cases, it can literally be a safe place that their parents know their children will be for a number of hours a day that will allow them to go out and work.

“Education is chronically underfunded in the humanitarian budget.

“There’s so much reconstruction and peace-building and reconciliation that needs to happen.

“How we expect a new generation to do that without access to education – we’re setting them up to fail.”

She added that the UK must make “qualified exemptions” within its anti-terror legislation, which currently prevents charity workers from giving material aid to specific Taliban leaders.

Since the last US troops withdrew from Afghanistan in August this year, Save the Children has been able to reach more than 40,000 adults and children with health, nutrition and education programming in seven of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces.

The charity resumed work in Kandahar, Kabul, Jowzjan, Balkh, Laghman, Nangarhar and Kunar in September, after previously operating in these provinces and three more.

A UK Government spokesman said: “We are looking at the best way to ensure critical, life-saving humanitarian aid continues to reach Afghans who need it.

“We have been clear with the Taliban and with our partners that we expect women and girls of all ages to be able to access quality education, and that their rights need to be protected.”

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