Some UN Afghan aid delivered by men only, donors voice alarm
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By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Under pressure from Afghanistan’s Taliban government, the United Nations is delivering some food aid with men only, prompting warnings from donors and humanitarian groups that this is seen as yielding to an internationally condemned ban on most women aid workers could .
UN Secretary General Martin Griffiths conceded to reporters this week that women are not involved in some food aid activities, which the World Food Program has described as “operational adjustments” so that it can continue its work, and he said the situation is inadequate.
“There are still activities where only men deliver food, for example, but it can’t work,” Griffiths said Monday after visiting Afghanistan last week.
The issue highlights a delicate balancing act that the world body has faced since the ban was imposed on December 24: how to stand firmly for women’s rights while finding ways to keep working in Afghanistan, where around 28 million people live – two-thirds of the population – helping those in need, with six million on the brink of famine.
The Taliban, who seized power in August 2021 when US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, say they respect women’s rights according to their interpretation of Islamic law. Since then it has barred women from parks, high school and university, saying women should not leave the home without a male relative and must cover their faces.
While women are still allowed to work for the United Nations, their operations are suffering because UN officials said 70% of humanitarian aid is carried out by local and international aid groups covered by the ban.
precedent for regret
Any potential change in the UN’s approach to food aid after the ban has alarmed some donor nations and aid groups.
The United States — a major donor to aid efforts in Afghanistan — is concerned that some U.N. agencies may consider an all-male aid delivery model, U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Lisa Carty said Wednesday during a Griffiths briefing to UN member states.
“This could effectively block access to help for women in need,” Carty said. “It could signal international organizations’ agreement to the Taliban’s unacceptable conditions, thereby normalizing repression, with implications for humanitarian organizations elsewhere.”
The International Rescue Committee said in an operational note on Wednesday that women’s role was “an operational imperative”, adding: “Without female staff at all levels and in all sectors, we cannot accurately assess needs and provide assistance when needed.” and programs provide scale.”
Griffiths stressed that Afghan women must help distribute food to ensure aid reaches the most vulnerable – women and girls.
“There is an absolute belief that all programs should include women,” Griffiths said Wednesday. “This may not always be required at every single point of delivery, but they should include women and even if they don’t, there should be absolute clarity about reaching out to all members of society.”
The United Nations has asked for $4.6 billion to fund the 2023 aid operation in Afghanistan. Griffiths said monitoring of the programs will be increased to ensure they reach everyone.
“Aid deliveries cannot be normalized without the participation of women,” said British Deputy Ambassador to the UN James Kariuki.
When asked about Griffiths’ comments on Monday, a WFP spokesman said some changes had been made to operations since the ban was imposed.
“Where it is safe for them, female staff from the partners continue to participate in distributions and oversee the aid. WFP has made operational adjustments where necessary to continue its life-saving assistance,” the spokesman told Reuters.
The United Nations has managed to get some health and education exemptions from the ban. Griffiths and leaders of some international aid groups met with Taliban officials last week to urge more, including in the areas of cash distribution and food aid.
Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, who was UN relief chief from 2003 to 2006, said if any organizations started men-only aid programs, groups like NRC would find it difficult to stay. He said NRC has been forced to freeze its aid efforts until the women can return to work.
“It sets a precedent in Afghanistan and around the world that we will regret for a long time to come,” he told Reuters. “The hardliners would say: ‘We won, we can do it without you’.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Don Durfee and Daniel Wallis)