What is life like today for women and girls in Afghanistan?
Since 1976, Save the Children has been working steadfastly to support the advancement of gender equality in Afghanistan. Sadly, today, due to escalating conflict and a rising hunger crisis, millions of women and girls in Afghanistan are cut off from aid supplies, out of school and without access to basic services.
Since the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, two babies have been born every minute. But with the country’s health care system on the brink of collapse, hundreds of thousands of infants and new and expectant mothers face limited access to medical care.
In the face of conflict and poverty, families may arrange marriages for girls, believing marriage will protect their daughters from violence, as well ease financial burdens on the family. Families in Afghanistan have also been forced to send their daughters out to work.
Four women and girls in Afghanistan describe the impact of conflict
Photo credit: Zubair Mohammad Shairzay/Save the Children
With the recent escalation in conflict in Afghanistan, children's lack of access to education has worsened. COVID-19 robbed girls of more than 20% of their expected lifetime education – girls like Damsa*.
“I love my class and classmates," said Damsa. "A month ago, while I was at home due to security, our class was closed. I cried all day because I wanted to go to the class, but my parents helped me and taught me at home.
"I was not feeling good, but after a while, (Save the Children’s community-based education) program reopened. I was happy and couldn’t sleep the whole night because I couldn’t wait to meet my teacher and classmates. I want to be a doctor in the future to help my people.”
Save the Children is working across a number of programs and areas to enable girls’ access to learning.
Photo credit: Jim Huylebroek / Save The Children
Laila* lives with her mother and her four brothers and sisters in a small house in a displacement camp in the Balkh province in northern Afghanistan. The family fled their home in Sari Pul province after Laila’s father was killed during conflict and her mother was going to be forced into another marriage. They family now live in a camp where families have dug their homes underground for warmth during the harsh winter.
There are no schools in the camp, but Laila attends Save the Children’s child-friendly space – a children’s center where she learns and plays alongside other girls from the camp. Before Save the Children opened the center, Laila worked morning until night cleaning houses, earning just 10 or 20 Afghanis per day (US$0.10 or $0.20).
Laila said: "When I worked in people’s houses, it was very hard. I would go and work from morning till evening. I worked because I had to. I would go and bring home 10 Afghanis ($ 0.10) and buy tea with it for my family."
Photo credit: Jim Huylebroek / Save the Children
“How can I feel when a piece of my heart goes out and works for others," said Laila’s mother, Shugofa*. "But what could I do? I felt sorry that my child must work cleaning people’s rubbish and dirt."
Up to one-fifth of families in Afghanistan have been forced to send their children out to work as incomes have plummeted in the past six months, with an estimated one million children now engaged in child labor.
As families sink further into debt and poverty, 7.5% said they were begging or relying on charity to feed their families.
"Not having a breadwinner and having five children without a father, you can imagine how difficult it is … We sometimes eat only once a day, and other times we eat bread on its own, three times a day. I make the children eat less or once a day so that the food lasts for one more day. And we cook smaller quantities, to avoid running out of food for the next day. My children are weak and skinny.”
Save the Children is providing families with urgent cash assistance and winter kits with essential items to get them through the winter. Cash assistance helps to prevent families from resorting to desperate measures that adversely affect children, such as child labor, early marriage and reduced meals.
When nine-year old Wazhma* (pictured, at left) became sick, her parents tried to help by making home remedies. But they failed to work. Breshna*, Wazhma's mother, describes how frightened she was.
“The situation was one of the worst experiences of my life. As a mother I felt helpless because I could not help my daughter. I knew I had to take her to the hospital, but we could not afford to. I felt helpless. We had no other option but to beg to borrow money from friends to help keep her alive.
Some days we cannot even find 100 Afghanis to buy a piece of bread. When Wazhma became seriously ill, I thought she might die as I knew we would not be able to afford hospital treatment.
There is no worse feeling for a mother than if you are unable to make your child better when they are sick."
At the hospital Wazhma (pictured, at left) was provided with oxygen to help her breathe. The Doctors told Breshna that only thirty minutes of oxygen could be provided for Wazhma, as the hospital was running low on oxygen supplies. With medicine and oxygen Wazhma eventually made a recovery.
The Disproportionate Impact of Conflict on Women and Girls in Afghanistan
The conflict in Afghanistan has had a disproportionate impact on women and children, including girls, and their needs continue to grow. As such, it is critical that lifesaving services for women and girls continue.
Over the last few weeks, girls have been allowed to access secondary education in some provinces which is promising to see. We hope more provinces will take the decision to support girls secondary and higher education as these are central measures to supporting the future of Afghanistan.
Education is a lifeline for children, especially girls, and especially after having endured the impacts of the conflict, drought and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Save the Children remains committed to our vision of a safe, equitable world for girls and women and will continue to advocate for their rights—including their right to an education and the right for women to work.
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