Schulze wants to freeze help – Caritas welcomes that
The German development minister wants to suspend payments to Afghanistan because of the ban on women working in aid organizations. What does that mean for the helpers on site?
August 17, 2021, Kabul: The new rulers in Afghanistan invite you to a press conference. The Taliban sit in front of the black and white flag of the recently proclaimed Islamic Emirate in the presidential palace of the Afghan capital. The bearded fighters try to assure the world that they have changed: no excesses, respect for women’s rights – this is their new program.
Today it is clear that these announcements were nothing but empty words. The radically misogynist attitude of the Taliban has not changed in the long years of bitter resistance against the Western military coalition. First, girls were denied access to secondary school in the spring, and last week the Taliban announced that women would no longer be allowed to attend universities or colleges. The next restriction followed just a few days later: women are no longer allowed to work for non-governmental organizations because employees are said to have worn the headscarf improperly.
Some aid organizations suspended their work after the announcement. German Development Minister Svenja Schulze announced on Monday that she was in favor of a temporary suspension of German aid payments to Afghanistan. In a country that is as dependent on international aid as Afghanistan, this could have massive repercussions: According to the World Food Program, more than 22 million Afghans, half the population, already do not have enough to eat.
Women as a key to development
“As an aid organization, we are now in a big dilemma,” says Oliver Müller, head of Caritas International, the aid organization of the German Caritas Association. On the one hand, his organization is tasked with helping local people. “On the other hand, our work is significantly restricted and lowered in quality if we cannot fall back on women.” Caritas International works locally with ten Afghan partner organizations. A total of 300 people work for the German aid organization in Afghanistan, about a quarter of whom are women.
Aid organizations are particularly dependent on the support of women in Afghanistan. “A strange man cannot easily approach a strange woman there,” says Müller. The health advice for mothers in Kabul, which Caritas supports, cannot be continued without employees. At the same time, it is important to take a stand against the fundamental violation of women’s rights. For this reason, Caritas International also stopped its work in Afghanistan for the time being after the employment ban was announced.
The professional ban not only leads to short-term restrictions, but the efforts of aid organizations are also ineffective in the long term without the help of women. It is mostly women who are responsible for the children. In view of the already critical situation in Afghanistan, they are particularly at risk. “Women are the key to development,” says Müller. “That’s an old adage of development policy that still applies today.”
Especially in view of the difficult political situation and due to droughts and natural disasters in the past, every day without humanitarian aid is an enormous burden for the people on the ground: “There is now a risk of an even greater famine,” says Müller.
Germany sent 600 million euros to Afghanistan
According to the German Ministry for Development and Cooperation, one of the greatest humanitarian emergencies in the world has already occurred in Afghanistan. In 2021, the federal government therefore awarded humanitarian aid totaling 600 million euros to Afghanistan, 250 million of which was distributed by the development ministry. About three quarters of this went directly to Afghanistan, the rest of the money was used in neighboring countries to care for Afghan refugees.
The Development Ministry assures that the aid in Afghanistan is being spent “off the government”: “The ministry only uses its funds outside of the Afghan state budget, the Taliban have no influence on project locations, target groups or partners.” Nevertheless, the Social Democratic Minister Schulze now advocated suspending the aid. Under the given circumstances, aid organizations could not continue their work, says Schulze. Therefore, no more money should flow.
Oliver Müller welcomes this – even though his organization received a total of 750,000 euros from the development ministry for projects in Afghanistan in 2021 and 2022: “Humanitarian aid must remain neutral and impartial,” he emphasizes. “But if the Taliban decree that we can no longer reach the majority of those affected, then the international community cannot accept that. That’s why I think the step taken by the Ministry of Development is the right one.”