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The Taliban’s move to restrict women from working could immediately cost the Afghan economy up to $1bn, or 5% of GDP, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) said in a report as the militant group seeks global help to avert a deepening crisis. 

The UN report painted a grim picture of Afghanistan’s economy, which is under strain with soaring inflation and an ongoing cash crunch. Women account for 20% of the country’s workforce and preventing them from working could shave half-a-billion dollars alone from household consumption, it said.

At the weekend the Taliban’s acting prime minister, Mullah Mohammad Hassan, sought global help in preventing a further crisis and gave assurances that women’s rights would be protected based on Sharia law, under which they can study and work. While Hassan isn’t the first official from the new Afghan government to seek help, his administration hasn’t given clear directions on how they will support women.  

It was found in the UN report that after they swept into power in August the militant group had told all female government employees to stay at home and banned most girls from going to school. Only a few women in essential services such as nursing have been asked to resume work.  

Abdallah al-Dardari, UNDP head, said that “there isn’t a real full recovery of the Afghan economy without female participation”.

“Our initial results show that the contribution of educated women to the Afghan productivity is higher than that of men with the same level of education,” Al-Dardari said.

Restricting women from social life, including employment, adds more uncertainty to Afghanistan as it grapples with a sudden freeze in international aid, which contributes as much as 40% of its GDP and 80% of the budget spending, the report reads. The country’s GDP will contract 20% within a year and the decline may accelerate to 30% in the following years, it added. 

Humanitarian catastrophe

More than $9bn in Afghanistan reserves overseas remain frozen by the US and its Western allies on concerns over the Taliban’s continued links with terrorism, human rights abuses and failure to build an inclusive government. The Taliban have constantly asked for these funds to be released — a request echoed by Hassan. 

Afghanistan would need $6bn-$8bn in international grants annually to fund basic services, support growth and sustain peacemaking efforts, Al-Dardari said. The country would require an estimated $2bn to just lift the incomes those in extreme poverty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe, he added. 

The Taliban’s plea for the world to release the assets and resume aid could help “in the very short term”, though 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 on women in Afghanistan:

  • The economic impact of educating a girl in Afghanistan is more than double that for educating a boy, according to the UN report.
  • The country was ranked 166 out of 167 countries on the UN’s gender development index in 2019.
  • More than a quarter of the 400,000 public servants in Afghanistan are women. They have been banned from working until there are sharia-related procedures in place to ensure their safety.
  • Millions of women voted in the last elections and 89 of the 352 MPs were female.
  • 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.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com


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