After the Taliban takeover on August 15, 2021, Afghanistan has deteriorated into a state of humanitarian crisis. International donors have all but disappeared. The country’s economy and infrastructure has collapsed. Women and girls are barred from education, work, and most forms of participation in society. A massive exodus of educators, doctors, and professionals from the country has gutted the public, health, and private sectors. Afghans are unable to meet their every day needs to survive, much less weather the impact of natural disasters or any other form of emergency in their lives.
Women for Afghan Women (WAW) recognized this dire situation and stepped in to make a difference. After the Taliban closed much of WAW’s operations, including all of its family guidance and women’s protection centers, it has regrouped its resources, reassigned staff able to work, and quickly pivoted to providing emergency and humanitarian aid. After only 18 months since the fall of Kabul WAW’s Humanitarian Assistance Project (HAP) teams are now present in 17 of Afghanistan’s provinces, distributing food and other essential items, earthquake relief packages, and cash assistance to vulnerable communities.
In 2022 alone, 5,614 families received 6,529 humanitarian aid packages from WAW in 14 of Afghanistan’s provinces. This year, WAW has already distributed food packages to over 400 households, of which 89 were women-led. Considering that the average Afghan family consists of eight members, this food distribution provides basic food staples to over 3,200 individuals.
Numbers cannot fully illustrate the impact WAW’s food distribution makes. WAW sees to it that those experiencing homelessness, including entire families living on the streets, the disabled, and other displaced persons receive food assistance. This assistance includes providing the main staples of an Afghan family’s food basket such as flour, oil, dates, lentils, sugar, salt, rice, raisins, tomato paste, and green tea.
How exactly does WAW select the beneficiaries of its food distribution aid program, when there are so many suffering from food insecurity and abject poverty? It’s a considerable task. Take, for example, the Afghan capital and one of the country’s most populated urban centers, Kabul. Many of the inhabitants of Kabul and its outskirts have lost their livelihoods, and with that, their ability to support and feed their families. Women are banned from traveling long distances or going to work without a mahram (a husband, son, or brother). They are also barred from an education above the sixth grade and from working with non-government agencies (NGOs) and in other public sector jobs. These restrictions on over half the members of Afghan society have dealt a severe blow to the economy and the country in every part of its private and public sectors, including the healthcare system.
Considering all these factors, WAW selected Kabul for its first round of food distribution in 2023. WAW’s identification process and humanitarian aid teams particularly focus on vulnerable women-led households, families and children experiencing homelessness, and disabled and displaced individuals. Other recipients are selected based on certain criteria and through in-person and telephone interviews in an attempt to make the selection as fair as possible. This selection of recipients is then coordinated with the Ministry of Economy, The Ministry of Refugees and Repatriates, and Kabul’s Directorate of Refugees and Repatriates.
In tandem with the ongoing selection of beneficiaries, WAW regularly sets up distribution sites with banners and promotional materials and arranges food packages. To ensure that the correct families receive their allotment of food packages, each recipient’s identity is verified through a multi-step process, including checking recipients’ national identification documents.
One grateful recipient of WAW’s food assistance program states, “I am a widow, and do not have any breadwinners in my family. Women for Afghan Women has organized a food package for me, and I am so grateful to them. My hope is that this organization will continue to help us in the future.”
Distribution and distribution days are not without their challenges. WAW is required to coordinate with the Taliban during every step of the food aid process. Additionally, as women are barred from working with non-governmental organizations, our female staff are no longer able to assist in many aspects of WAW’s work that they used to, including the verification process of female recipients. Infrastructure issues, including lack of electricity and functioning mobile networks, also create impediments for all of our work in Afghanistan.
However, these challenges are the same that the Afghan people face every day, and this assistance is critical to the survival of so many. WAW remains wholly committed to our Humanitarian Assistance Project and other programs in Afghanistan, which we hope will see the Afghan people through these very challenging times.
Blog written by Gretchen Weerheim, Women for Afghan Women