Kabul, Afghanistan, November 23, 2020 — As humanitarian needs in Afghanistan skyrocket amid unrelenting violence and the spread of COVID-19, the 2020 Afghanistan Conference is a critical opportunity for the international community to increase funding and bring about an inclusive peace process. With 14 million people in need of aid, a 55% increase since 2019, and 6,000 civilian casualties in the first three quarters of 2020 alone, Afghans are caught in the middle of one of the deadliest conflicts for civilians. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) calls on all actors to commit to promoting gender equality by including women and girls in peacebuilding processes and addressing violence against them as they are disproportionately affected by the humanitarian crisis in the country that ranks as one of the most dangerous places to be a woman, with 87% of Afghan women likely to experience gender-based violence in their lifetime.
Vicki Aken, IRC Country Director in Afghanistan says,
“COVID-19 and escalating conflict have contributed to a major increase in humanitarian needs in Afghanistan. Conflict, lost incomes and rising food prices are exacerbating one of the largest food insecurity crises in the world. More than 17million people – 46% of the population – are projected to face crisis or worse levels of severe food insecurity.. At the same time, Afghans remain caught in the middle of one of the deadliest conflicts for civilians, ranking last in the world on the 2020 Global Peace Index as it enters peace negotiations.”
“Women in Afghanistan are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of this conflict. A new IRC and UN Women survey finds women and their livelihoods are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, with 63% of women in the informal sector losing their jobs and 48% of women in the formal sector working less hours since the beginning of the pandemic. IRC staff report concerning increases in child labor, violence against women and children, exploitation and early marriage. Unaddressed, COVID-19’s wider crises threaten to roll back critical and fragile gains made in gender equality. Afghanistan consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous places to be a woman, with 87% of Afghan women likely to experience gender-based violence in their lifetime. Internally displaced women and female returnees face even greater constraints due to a lack of documentation, discrimination, and more limited access to basic goods and services. ”
With more funding and an inclusive peace process that meaningfully engages marginalized populations in decisions about the future of their country, humanitarian actors like the IRC can scale up and adapt responses to meet evolving needs. But humanitarians are constrained by severe underfunding and conflict. The international community and all parties to the conflict should adopt a gender lens in their commitments to the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure and in the peace process to ensure the conflict’s unique impacts on women are understood and prioritized as well as increase humanitarian funding to help the IRC and other actors reach the most vulnerable with lifesaving aid.
The IRC has been working in Afghanistan since 1988 providing aid to the most vulnerable. With more than 1,700 staff and volunteers, the IRC reaches more than a million Afghans each year with education, protection, water and sanitation, emergency response, and economic recovery programs.