Sunday

24th Oct 2021

Opinion

Time for EU to be a real ally of Afghan women

  • Girls and women will be the first victims in Afghanistan after the takeover by the Taliban. (Photo: DVIDSHUB)
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No introductions are needed for what is happening in Afghanistan.

The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the country of 39 million and droughts threaten many livelihoods, with 12 million Afghanis facing emergency levels of food insecurity.

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Now, what looked like an effortless rise of the Taliban to power poses a threat to millions of men, women, and children.

Crises are not gender-equal

We know that no one is immune to a humanitarian crisis: men and women, children, and adults.

We also know crises disproportionally affect girls and women because of their gender. They are 70 percent of the world's hungry. Girls are the first to be taken out of school. They are the first to get married young and against their will. They are victims of sexual violence. We must acknowledge lived experiences to find the right responses.

Afghanistan is no different.

Headlines about what the Taliban rule will mean for girls and women are everywhere. Photos of women are being erased from public life. Women are forced out of work. Testimonies come from women journalists being threatened.

It is impossible to take Taliban reassurances seriously. In no uncertain terms, gender alone is enough of a risk.

A quick but expected EU reaction

The EU reacted quickly and with strong statements.

Its high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, issued a declaration stating that "the protection and promotion of all human rights, in particular those of women and girls, must be an integral part of these efforts [for a political solution] and women should be supported and able to contribute fully to this process."

Such demands seem overly optimistic. Officials have already admitted what many suspected: the EU has little leverage. In the meantime, China and Russia seem to be ready to fill in the vacuum.

The inconvenient truth is we do not seem to know what to do. The situation is rapidly evolving and no one can argue they have all the answers.

Despite this uncertainty, there are steps we can take to support girls and women. Our leaders must pause grandiose statements and put the tools we have in use.

Supporting Afghani girls and women

The EU has means to help Afghanis, some already voiced by leading MEPs.

As many have said already, EU countries must fast-track asylum applications. The Qualification Directive gives us much to work with, especially when it comes to girls and women, as it recognises that gender-related violations can constitute persecution.

The problem is that the most affected people are often the ones unable to flee. Afghanis in general, and girls and women in particular, wishing to seek refuge outside Afghanistan must be supported to do so.

Team Europe needs to work with our partners around the world and ensure an open and safe passage, among others by keeping the Kabul airport operational and by providing air bridges to those in need.

Equal resources must be put to support girls and women who remain. In the mid-term, the EU must develop a Strategy for Afghanistan as an unambiguous framework for support.

Any such strategy needs to be human-centred with people's well-being at its core, and identify intersecting forms of violence and specific threats faced by girls and women.

More than Afghanistan

The people of Afghanistan need our support urgently - this is the absolute priority. But not drawing conclusions beyond Afghanistan itself is dangerously short-sighted.

We need to be real allies of girls and women globally, and work hand in hand with them to strengthen their role in their communities.

The EU must ensure that feminism is at the core of its external policy; the lived experiences of people, including gender and intersectionality, must be an integral part of the Union's work rather than an occasional add-on.

The recently adopted and ambitious Gender Action Plan now moves to implementation. If we truly care about gender equality, we need an equally ambitious funding to back the text so that words can become impact.

The "Global Europe" funding instrument is also equipped to help, identifying the need to empower women and children as a global issue. According to the text, "at least 85 percent of actions under [this instrument] ... should have gender equality as a principal or significant objective."

Ensuring this translates into meaningful action must be a priority, accompanied by a transparent system allowing civil society to hold institutions into account.

These actions are by no means enough. On the contrary, they are mere examples of the bare minimum the EU should do.

On World Humanitarian Day a few days ago, our leaders shared their commitments. If there was ever a time for the EU to have a good look at the mirror, it is now.

It is the time to decide between living up to those commitments or admitting they are empty words. The only certainty is we will live with the consequences of this decision for a very long time.

Author bio

Serap Altinisik is representative of Plan International to the EU and head of the EU Office, board member of CIVICUS and FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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