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Q&A: An Afghan aid worker shares how the U.S. should respond to the hunger crisis

Detail shot of hands preparing food

All photos: Zahra Mandgar/CARE Afghanistan

All photos: Zahra Mandgar/CARE Afghanistan

Amid a global food security crisis, CARE’s latest research puts a spotlight on Afghanistan and the unique ways that women and girls are affected by food insecurity.

Afghanistan is facing a hunger crisis. Pre-existing food insecurity has been exacerbated by political upheaval and the resulting economic and financial crises, which have driven humanitarian needs in the country to unprecedented levels. Now Afghanistan has the highest number of people experiencing emergency levels (IPC 4) of food insecurity in the world and over half the country requires humanitarian assistance to survive, a 30% increase from last year.

On top of this, after decades of conflict, in 2021 Afghanistan faced the worst drought in 30 years, which significantly impacted the agricultural and livestock sectors.

This is a reality faced by many other countries in the throes of humanitarian crisis as climate change, conflict, and COVID-19 converge to create crisis level food insecurity for millions worldwide.

CARE knows women and girls in humanitarian settings often eat last and least when food is scarce, and undernourishment can have a lasting impact on future generations. Household tension and financial strain associated with food insecurity also increases women and children’s vulnerability to multiple forms of violence including intimate partner violence and child, early, and forced marriage.

In Afghanistan, gender inequality has meant women and girls are among the most marginalized and vulnerable individuals in the country and face higher constraints in accessing resources and services.

CARE’s new study on the impact of the food crisis on women and girls in Afghanistan examines how women and girls are affected by food insecurity; inequality in the distribution of food within households; negative coping behaviors; and their experiences receiving and delivering aid. A preliminary overview of the key findings and recommendations can be found here.

Photo of woman harvesting fruit

Advice from an Afghan aid worker

Uzma*, a CARE staffer in Afghanistan, helped conduct the assessment and interview community members in the provinces. She’s also a young Afghan woman with firsthand experience navigating the realities of her country’s rapid changes. She shared her reflections on what she’s hearing from Afghan women, her personal insights about the humanitarian impacts of the crisis, and what she wants U.S. policymakers to keep in mind:

What is it the situation in Afghanistan like today compared to a year ago? What are some of the barriers to accessing food specifically?

People are experiencing very bad psychological impacts, some had to leave their homes, and many can’t find food. Many people left Afghanistan but for the people who stayed these changes have really affected their quality of life.

Food used to be available in the markets and the cost of food was manageable. People had jobs and could afford to feed their families. Now the food is so expensive, and people can’t buy good quality food like meat but instead must eat beans and lower cost foods.

The economic crisis is really impacting families because some people don’t have any income to buy the things they need.

Portrait of woman gazing out a window

How are women and girls especially impacted?

When I’m visiting communities to monitor CARE’s aid response, women I speak to are concerned and really want to be able to have a job so they can have regular income again. Women worked before as teachers and in the government and now they can’t. Some have even been told to send their male relatives to their jobs in their place.

So many women we interviewed had the idea to start a small business — like tailoring — to get a little income, but it’s very hard because other people in the community don’t have the money to afford their services.

What would you like to tell people in power in the U.S. about how they can support Afghans?

Speaking for young women like me, we want freedom, peace, jobs, education, and opportunities. If women are able to work and go to school and travel, we can support our families and we can support our communities. If I want to have a picnic and see my friends or choose my clothes, I can’t; this is what our life is like. I’m lucky to go to the office and travel but most of my friends are at home and suffer depression. It’s hard to have hope for the future.

My father used to work for the army, my mother was a teacher, and my sister worked for a government ministry but [they lost their jobs] and now I am the only one with a job and responsible for supporting my family. In my community this is a typical story. Without education and jobs, the future is a question mark.

Translating evidence to action

Now is the time for policymakers in the U.S. and other donor countries to take action to address gender inequality and prevent and respond to the hunger and humanitarian crises in Afghanistan and beyond.

Here are 3 ways Congress and the Administration can help:

  1. Be a leader in global humanitarian and food security funding and ensure that flexible, needs-based assistance can sustainably meet needs wherever and whenever they arise by:
    • Increasing regular appropriations from Congress for international disaster assistance and other humanitarian accounts that support responses in Afghanistan and around the world; and
    • Reauthorizing Feed the Future, the U.S. government’s flagship global food security program, at a minimum level of $1.23 billion annually and expanding its programming to more fully promote gender equality and support women and girls by elevating their role as decision makers, helping to break down barriers they face, and comprehensively integrating nutrition into food and health systems.
  2. Address the underlying economic and financial drivers of the humanitarian needs and loss of livelihoods in Afghanistan by adopting policies that prioritize:
    • The urgent resumption of development aid in support of basic services- including civil servant salaries- via the Afghan Reconstruction Task Force and other means; and
    • Increased liquidity and macroeconomic stability including via recapitalization of the Central Bank and currency injections.
  3. Support individuals, especially women and girls, experiencing food insecurity and crisis by adequately resourcing protection, gender-based violence prevention and response, and cash and livelihoods support; by holding humanitarian actors accountable to gender-responsive (and where possible and safe to do so, gender transformative) aid approaches; and by passing the Safe From the Start Act, into law.

You can take action now and urge U.S. policymakers to lead on global humanitarian response and food security at care.org/EndHunger.

 *Name has been changed to protect privacy

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