A year on from the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the senior UN official in the country, Resident Coordinator Ramiz Alakbarov, described his fears for girls' lives and called for women to play a full role in reviving the Afghan economy.
Rights groups say that the Taliban have broken multiple pledges to respect human rights and women's rights since taking over Afghanistan a year ago. After capturing Kabul in August last year, Taliban authorities have imposed severe restrictions on women's and girls' rights.
"Shortly before the Taliban takeover in 2021, I visited an orphanage in Kunduz, a city in the north of Afghanistan. I was heartbroken when I spoke with a young girl there who had lost her entire family the day before, following intense fighting between the Afghan National Security Forces and the Taliban," said Ramiz Alakbarov, Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).
Since then, Alakbarov said these challenges have grown exponentially and efforts to build a stable future for children like the ones I met last year in Kunduz have become more demanding.
"From hunger to chronic poverty, the scale of suffering in Afghanistan continues to rise across many areas since the Taliban advanced on Kabul last summer," he said.
Over half of the country's population now live below the poverty line. Nearly 23 million people are food insecure, many of them severely so, and more than two million children are suffering from malnutrition. In June 2022, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck the central region of Afghanistan, killing over 1,000 people and pushing already vulnerable communities to the brink.
"I am especially worried about Afghan women and girls, whose lives have changed unrecognizably since the Taliban returned to power last summer. Since 15 August 2021, we have seen a significant rolling back of their economic, political, and social rights and a worrying escalation in restrictive gender policies and behaviours," he said.
Without the right to education, work and freedom of movement, women now find themselves increasingly relegated to the margins, he added.
According to a new analysis by UNICEF, keeping girls out of secondary school costs Afghanistan 2.5 per cent of its annual GDP. If the current cohort of three million girls were able to complete their secondary education and participate in the job market, girls and women would contribute at least USD 5.4 billion to Afghanistan's economy, the UN agency said.
UNICEF's estimates do not take into account the non-financial impacts of denying girls access to education, such as upcoming shortages of female teachers, doctors and nurses, the ensuing impact on decreasing attendance for girls in primary school and increasing health costs related to adolescent pregnancy.
The estimates also do not account for the broader benefits of education, including overall educational attainment, reduced child marriage and reduced infant mortality. (ANI)