We just got this urgent request from friends in Afghanistan, who are women teachers and healthcare workers. They say the Taliban are allowing girls to attend primary school (grades 1-6). They have still not opened grades 7-12 to girls but have pledged to do so. The Afghan women teachers are calling on the Taliban to fulfill their promise to open all grades to girls.
But our friends cite another major hurdle for educating Afghan girls: the non-payment of salaries to teachers. “Teachers have not been paid for the past three months and the Ministry of Education has very few resources,” they wrote. “There are currently more than 120,000 female teachers in public schools across the country, and about half of them are the sole source of income for their families. It is very difficult, even impossible, to ask these teachers to continue teaching without pay. We call on the international community, the World Bank, and other donors to help us fund the payment of Afghan teachers’ salaries in order to provide quality education to boys and girls, which is one of their fundamental rights.”
The same crisis faces healthcare workers. There are over 13,000 female healthcare workers, including doctors, midwives, nurses, vaccinators, and other female staff. Most of them were being paid through the World Bank via the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), but since June, the funding stopped. Meanwhile, the health system is on the brink of collapse. There has been a surge in cases of measles and diarrhea; a resurgence of polio is a major risk; almost half the children are malnourished; nearly 1 in 4 COVID hospitals have shuttered and 2 million doses of COVID19 vaccines remain unused for lack of personnel to administer them.
The most important thing we can do for Afghan women and girls right now is to call on the Biden Administration and key members of Congress to unfreeze the Afghan funds to pay teachers and healthcare workers. This money could come from the $9.4 billion of Afghan funds frozen in U.S. banks or from the World Bank reconstruction fund. The U.S. should use its leverage to get the World Bank funds released.
The Afghan people, especially the women, should not be denied access to education or life-saving care. If these basic needs are not funded urgently, millions of Afghans will continue to suffer and there will be a huge wave of desperate refugees.
Afghan lives are in the balance. Let’s not abandon them.
Medea Benjamin and the entire CODEPINK team
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