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NGOs Provide Roadmap for Immediate U.S. Humanitarian Action for Afghan Women and Girls

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On International Human Rights Day, a coalition of NGOs and humanitarian organizations published a new brief to raise the alarm on the calamitous situation for Afghan women and girls and urge an immediate response from the U.S. government.

Afghanistan already faces one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world—beset by conflict, drought, and food insecurity—that affects more than half the population. Against the backdrop of this broader humanitarian emergency, the Taliban’s attacks on the rights of women and girls is disproportionately impacting their health, safety, and access to lifesaving assistance.

“As President Biden announced his plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, women’s rights defenders within the country and around the world prepared for the inevitable—the evisceration of human rights across the country at the hands of the Taliban, particularly for women and girls,” said Gayatri Patel, vice president for external relations at the Women’s Refugee Commission. “We all knew what was coming. It was in the news. It was a part of history. The world is watching as they face abhorrent human rights abuses and a humanitarian crisis goes from bad to nightmare. We strongly urge the U.S. Government to immediately adopt these recommendations. Anything less will worsen an already dire situation and threaten to permanently erase gains made over the past several decades by Afghan women and girls.”

The brief outlines immediate steps for the U.S. government to alleviate the acute crisis for Afghan women and girls, including:

  • Immediately appoint a senior official in the State Department to address the urgent needs and rights of Afghan women and girls;
  • Provide immediate humanitarian aid to address the current crisis in Afghanistan and the surrounding region;
  • Prioritize the safe, equal, and unrestricted access of female aid workers;
  • Provide financial and technical support for conflict prevention, gender equality, human rights, peacebuilding, education, and atrocities prevention programming;
  • Mandate the use of a gender and social inclusion analysis for all humanitarian, peacebuilding, and development action;
  • Leverage bilateral and multilateral diplomacy to maximize opportunities for Afghan women to safely, equally, and meaningfully participate in leadership, peacebuilding, and humanitarian relief;
  • Center civilian protection in ongoing U.S. engagement in Afghanistan and hold all actors publicly accountable for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses.

“The urgency for women and girls in Afghanistan cannot be overstated,” said Devon Cone, senior advocate for women and girls at Refugees International. “The humanitarian and economic crisis is resulting in malnutrition for pregnant women, increasing child marriages for girls, and exacerbating the risk of gender-based violence. The United States has a responsibility to the Afghan people and especially to Afghan women and girls who are bearing the biggest brunt of this crisis. The U.S. can–and must–act now to improve the situation.”

“As international attention has moved on from Afghanistan, the Taliban has systematically stripped women and girls of their rights, and diplomats and humanitarian actors have failed to robustly push back for fear of losing whatever access and leverage they believe they have,” Elizabeth Cafferty, advisor to the executive director at VOICE Amplified. “The American people made it plain this summer that they expect the U.S. Government to support and protect Afghan women and girls. Now is the time for the Biden-Harris Administration to stand up for Afghan women and girls by immediately adopting our recommendations, which have been informed by our extensive engagement with Afghan women and girl leaders and are consistent with American values.”

“For decades, and increasingly since the announced withdrawal of U.S. forces in April, Afghan women have warned of the dire implications of a return to Taliban rule. Now those warnings are coming to fruition, as a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan undermines the lives, political power, livelihoods, fundamental human rights, and agency of Afghan women and girls after 20 years of tremendous gains,” said Megan Corrado, director of policy and advocacy with the Alliance for Peacebuilding. “Although the U.S. Government and international community failed to do so, this brief is a result of listening to our Afghan sisters, as we seek to amplify their voices and needs to ensure their access to humanitarian aid, as well as peacebuilding, conflict prevention, and development assistance to prevent the wholesale backslide of their rights and progress and their ability to address the short-, medium-, and long-term challenges that will require women’s engagement and resistance.”

“For 20 years the United States government and its allies stood by these women, encouraged their leadership, and celebrated their gains,” said Teresa Casale, director of advocacy for Mina’s List. “We failed them during the unconditional troop withdrawal and evacuation process. But it’s not too late to take action. The world cannot–and must not–look away.”

Organizations that support this brief include Alliance for Peacebuilding, Futures Without Violence, Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, Human Rights Watch, Mina’s List, Refugees International, VOICE, and Women’s Refugee Commission. Read the full brief.