One billion dollars per year: the cost of excluding women in Afghanistan
14 December 2022
A year on from the Taliban takeover in Kabul, Afghanistan is gripped by “cascading crises”, including a crippled economy that humanitarian aid alone cannot address.
How does the Taliban takeover affect the Afghan economy?
The Afghan economy lost 5 billion US dollars since August 2021, wiping out in less than a year “what had taken it 10 years to accumulate”, according to a report released by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).
The cost of food basket went up 35 per cent, forcing poorer households to go deeper into debt or sell off assets, just to survive.
One in three businesses has ceased operations temporarily, and close to 700,000 jobs have been lost by mid-2022, as estimated in the report.
The cost of excluding women
“No country has prospered by leaving half of its population behind, and the loss to the Afghan economy alone is estimated at a billion dollars a year - in addition to any future losses through limits placed on education, skills, dignities and capabilities investments,” warns the report.
As the economic crisis and uncertainty ensued, workers were pushed out of employment. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that more than half a million jobs were lost between August 2021 and mid-2022.
Curbing women’s access to work results in a 21 per cent drop in their employment levels by mid-2022, and a steep reduction in GDP of up to 1 billion dollars, or 5 per cent of the Afghan GDP.
Women-own businesses are worst affected — 42 per cent of women-owned businesses had temporarily closed, compared to 26 per cent of men.
UN joint initiative to empower women
Three UN agencies, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and UN Women, have launched a joint initiative to enhance women’s overall quality of life and resilience in Faizabad - Badakhshan Province, by strengthening women-led organizations to enhance women’s self-reliance.
Badakhshan Province regularly faces acute food insecurity, with 96 per cent of the population residing in rural areas where residents lack sufficient income-generation opportunities. There have been limited investments in women-focused livelihoods and overall development since 2001.
The initiative focuses on strengthening local women-led non-government organisations and networks that support women in general and women-headed households in particular with livelihoods and quality of life enhancement related multi-sectoral assistance, mobilising and organising women in producer groups and linking them to local markets and micro-finance options.
“We must help drive a grass-roots economic recovery which is anchored in the creation of value chains and developing linkages between farmers and food producers and local markets.
Empowering women to be at the centre of this economic recovery strategy will help to promote equality and improve social and health outcomes.”
Coming together to lift women up
“The full return of women to work is key to transforming Afghanistan’s economy and lifting the country out of poverty and crisis,” said Ms Alison Davidian, Representative of UN Women in Afghanistan. “Initiatives like the Women’s Access, Dignity and Advancement (WADA) platform that assist women-led businesses and support employment opportunities for women across sectors moving Afghanistan strongly in this direction.”
The Women’s Access Dignity and Advancement project (WADA) is set to run for four years, with the initial phase to be implemented in the first 24 months. Both UNHCR and FAO have contributed $1 million each to kick-start the project while looking to fundraise the $18 million balance needed for the scale-up.
WADA is also designed as a multi-sectoral, multi-agency and multi-phased initiative with programming opportunities for more UN agencies and other development partners to be part of the initiative as it progresses.