A full recovery of the Afghan economy will not take place without female participation, according to a new UNDP report.
The Taliban’s move to restrict women from working could cost the Afghan economy up to $ 1 billion, or 5% of GDP, immediately, the United Nations Development Program said in a new report, while the militant group sought global help to to prevent deepening crisis.
The UN report painted a grim picture of Afghanistan’s economy, which is under pressure with rising inflation and a continuing cash crisis. Women account for 20% of the country’s workforce and preventing them from working could cut off half a billion dollars from domestic consumption alone, it said.
The Taliban’s acting prime minister, Mullah Mohammad Hassan, at the weekend sought global help to prevent a further crisis and gave assurances that women’s rights would be protected under sharia law, according to which they could study and work. Although Hassan is not the first official of the new Afghan government to seek help, his administration has not given clear directions on how they will support women.
The UN report found that the militant group had told all female civil servants to stay at home and banned most girls from going to school after coming to power in August. Only a small number of women in essential services such as nursing were asked to resume work.
“I want to say very clearly that there is no real full recovery of the Afghan economy without women’s participation,” UNDP chief Abdallah al Dardari said in an interview. “Our initial results show that the contribution of educated women to Afghan productivity is higher than that of men with the same level of education.”
Restricting women from social life, including employment, adds more uncertainty to Afghanistan as it struggles with a sudden freeze in international aid that contributes as much as 40% of its GDP and 80% of budget spending, the report said. The country’s GDP will shrink by 20% within a year and the decline could accelerate to 30% in the coming years, he added.
More than $ 9 billion in Afghanistan’s reserves overseas remain frozen by the US and its Western allies over concerns about the Taliban’s continued links with terrorism, human rights abuses and failure to build an inclusive government. The Taliban has repeatedly called for these funds to be released – a request that is reflected by acting Prime Minister Hassan.
Afghanistan will need $ 6 billion to $ 8 billion annually in international grants to fund basic services, support growth and sustain peace-building efforts, Al Dardari said. The country will need an estimated $ 2 billion just to increase the incomes of those in extreme poverty to avoid a humanitarian disaster, he added.
The Taliban’s plea to the world to release the assets and resume aid could help “in the very short term”, although the bigger issue is to strengthen Afghanistan’s weak institutions, said Adnan Mazarei, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics. “The de facto authorities are shooting themselves in the foot in many ways, including with the restrictions on women and others.”
Here are some key facts and figures about women in Afghanistan:
- The economic impact of educating a girl in Afghanistan is more than double that of educating a boy, according to the UN report.
- The country was 166 out of 167 countries on the UN Gender Development Index in 2019.
- More than a quarter of Afghanistan’s 400,000 civil servants are women. They are banned from working until sharia-related procedures are in place to ensure their safety.
- Millions of women voted in the last election and 89 of the 352 members of parliament were women.
- The Taliban unveiled a 53-member cabinet in September, which did not include any women. In the previous government, there were 13 women ministers and deputy ministers.