September 24, 2022
The Taliban’s draconian gender-based restrictions are harmful to Afghan women and threaten to undermine the country’s entire health system, two new reports by medical experts revealed this week.
The reports come as several governments and NGOs across the world ratchet up pressure on the Taliban to roll back restrictions imposed on women and girls since they seized Afghanistan last August. The Taliban have imposed at least 16 edicts in the past year that have restricted the rights of women and girls, according to a State Department tally.
“Before the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan’s health system was already constrained by a shortage of female health-care providers, affecting the provision of life-saving services,” experts and former health officials wrote in the Lancet medical journal on Friday. “Prohibiting education for girls and women will eventually have considerable direct and indirect impacts on the health of Afghans.”
UNICEF estimates that depriving girls of education has cost the Afghan economy $500 million over the past twelve months. The agency also said that if girls and women were allowed to finish school and participate in the workplace, they would contribute at least $5.4 billion to Afghanistan’s economy.
The Afghan economy and healthcare system were already on the verge of collapse when Kabul fell. Now, as Gallup expert July Ray speculated, without healthy women it might be impossible to “rebuild and move forward.”
The Lancet piece, written by former WHO health system manager Najibullah Safi, UNICEF nutrition officer Palwasha Anwari, and CDC Foundation health worker Helah Safi, also observed the Taliban restrictions of course have threatened the health of women especially.
“Restriction on women’s movements without mahram (unmarriageable male kin or husband) has reduced access of women and children to health-care services,” the experts said.
The experts did note, citing Afghan public health records, female use of inpatient and outpatient healthcare services rose by 10% in the first six months of the year compared to the same period in 2021.
A new report from the Global Women’s Health Index (GWHI), which rated Afghanistan last among 122 countries assessed in terms of providing “basic needs” for women, also underscored the likely consequences of the new edicts in a country where one in three Afghans had no access to a functional health center within two hours of their home.
“With travel restrictions imposed by the Taliban on women traveling more than 48 miles without a male guardian, women may feel discouraged from seeking care,” the report said.
Ray pointed out that considering women were having a hard time getting basic needs met, preventive care was certainly going to be ruled out. Before the Taliban takeover relatively few Afghan women reported getting tested for high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer or STDs/STIs within the previous 12 months.
“If preventive care was rare in 2021 in Afghanistan, it is likely almost nonexistent in 2022, putting the lives of millions of Afghan women and girls at even greater risk, and making it even more important for their voices to be heard,” Ray said.
The GWHI report however noted that even if women did get tested for cancer, just one hospital in Kabul bears the treatment burden for the entire country.
An Afghan public health ministry spokesperson, when asked about the lack of access, told Tolo News that the regime has created “dozens” of facilities for women across the country.
Improving the health and safety of women in Afghanistan has been a top focus of countries like the United States. On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration is providing $327 million in additional humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, which includes funding for gender-based violence prevention along with life-saving reproductive and maternal health services.
It is important to note that the data upon which the GWHI study is based was gathered before the Taliban even took power. So, their assessment of the current regime is a product of logical deduction and certainly some solid anecdotal accounts. However, it needs to be made clear that the actual quantitative evidence, scientifically sampled and assessed, shines a light on the decrepit state of affairs under the previous regime – that being the corrupt U.S.-financed Ghani administration.
The United States spent billions over two decades trying to rebuild Afghanistan, which included investments in the healthcare sector (and in one sense reversing the damage of the first Taliban regime). Afghan women and girls made substantial gains in some areas under the American-led occupation – including greater access to life-saving healthcare, according to the U.S. reconstruction watchdog. Despite these gains, Afghanistan still suffered from high maternal-mortality ratios and “endemic gender-based violence.” It was also ranked 169th with respect to gender inequality in the 2020 Human Development Index.
And, finally, what did not help Afghanistan’s health system after the fall of Kabul was the world cutting-off the foreign aid that had propped up the country’s economy for years.