THE UNITED NATIONS: The UN is prepared to make the “heartbreaking” choice to leave Afghanistan in May if it cannot persuade the Taliban to allow local women to work for the agency, according to the head of the UN Development Program.
UN officials are negotiating with the Afghan government in the hope that it will make exceptions to an edict issued earlier this month prohibiting local women from working for the UN, according to UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.
“It is fair to say that where we are right now requires the entire UN system to take a step back and reevaluate its ability to operate there,” Steiner said. “But it’s not about negotiating fundamental principles, such as human rights.”
Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, said Tuesday that the UN remains dedicated to assisting the people of Afghanistan and would continue “to push back on this counterproductive, to say the least, edict by the authorities.”
The Taliban have permitted Afghan women to work, according to Steiner, and a UN report released on Tuesday showed that the country sorely needs more women to work, with its economy in shambles.
The Taliban takeover has coincided with some very minor indicators of economic revival. Exports have increased, the currency rate has stabilized, and inflation has decreased. However, GDP, or the sum of all products and services generated inside Afghanistan’s borders, is predicted to be outpaced by population increase, resulting in a drop in per capita income from $359 in 2022 to $345 in 2024, according to the report.
According to Steiner, some of the economic challenges stem from Taliban policies that keep most women out of the labor force. Because of the country’s economic troubles, there is more need, but the UN has decided that human rights are non-negotiable, and it will depart in May if the Taliban do not capitulate.
“I think there’s no other way to put it than heartbreaking,” Steiner remarked in an interview on Monday. “I mean, if I imagine the UN family not being in Afghanistan today, I have images of millions of young girls, young boys, fathers, and mothers who will essentially go hungry.”
The Taliban’s decision to allow women to work in health, education, and some small businesses is cause for cautious hope.
“In one sense, the de facto authorities have enabled the UN to roll out a significant set of humanitarian and also emergency development assistance activities,” Steiner said. “However, they are constantly shifting the goalposts and issuing new edicts.”
Despite initial promises of a more moderate leadership than during their previous tenure in power in the 1990s, the Taliban have enforced harsh restrictions on the country since taking over in 2021, as US and NATO soldiers were withdrawing from Afghanistan after two decades of war.
According to Abdul Rahman Habib, spokesman for the Afghan Economy Ministry, international banking limitations, a halt in humanitarian assistance, and climate change explain the country’s poverty rate and bad economy.
Lower inflation and reliance on imports, stronger regional trade and business contacts, and the abolition of poppy growing, he said, were all evidence of economic development and good administration.
“Our future plans and priorities include developing the agricultural and industrial sectors, as well as mining extraction, supporting domestic businesses and products, focusing more on exports, attracting domestic and foreign investors, establishing special economic zones, and much more,” Habib said.
The Taliban went a step further in their restrictions on women last month, announcing that female Afghan personnel employed by the UN mission would no longer be able to report for work.
“We’re approaching a very fundamental moment,” Steiner added. “Obviously, our hope and expectation is that some common sense will prevail.”
Since the Taliban’s takeover and the ensuing economic collapse, aid organizations have been providing food, education, and health care to Afghans. No country has recognized the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate government, and the country’s seat at the UN is held by President Ashraf Ghani’s former government.
The 3,300 Afghans hired by the UN — 2,700 men and 600 women — have remained at home since April 12 but will continue to work and be paid, according to Dujarric. The Taliban restriction has no effect on the UN’s 600 international personnel, including 200 women.
“We are reviewing how we can do our work and do it while respecting international human rights law,” he said on Tuesday. “We are doing everything we can to see how we can continue to do that.”