In the aftermath of the formation of the new de-facto authorities in Afghanistan, girls and women in the country are demonstrating remarkable courage despite facing genuine fears and pressures. This assessment comes from a UNICEF staff member, one of the few Westerners who have remained in Kabul. The Taliban recently announced that boys could return to secondary school, but they made no reference to a return date for girls in secondary school. This omission has created anxiety and uncertainty for approximately one million girls in Afghanistan.
In an episode of the podcast series "Awake at Night," UNICEF's Chief of Communications in Afghanistan, Sam Mort, spoke with the Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications at the UN, Melissa Fleming, about the situation in the country.
Mort emphasized UNICEF's commitment to staying in Afghanistan, as they are present before, during, and after emergencies. Around half of the country is in dire need of humanitarian assistance, including 10 million children. The organization's mission is to protect these children, provide them with medical care, vaccinations, nutrition, and support their recovery from the traumas they have experienced.
However, the rapid and extensive takeover by the Taliban has impacted UNICEF's operations, with most national staff working from home until safety assurances, particularly for female national staff, can be obtained from the Taliban. As a result, UNICEF is not operating at full capacity and is unable to reach all the children in need. Despite these challenges, roads and airports have begun to reopen, allowing UNICEF to slowly resume its work, with hopes that all staff can return to the offices soon, given the looming complex humanitarian crisis and the approaching winter.
Afghanistan has long been one of the most challenging places for children to grow up, and the situation has worsened in recent months. UNICEF continues to focus on the most vulnerable and how best to assist them.
UNICEF works closely with many young people, and despite the adversity they face, they exhibit remarkable energy, optimism, and determination to pursue their education and aspirations, particularly young women who confront daily threats, hardships, and challenges. The courage of Afghan girls and women is evident as they acknowledge their fears and pressures but continue to move forward.
Sam Mort highlighted the story of a young woman who had been working with UNICEF. She had expressed that she was still breathing but felt trapped, describing her situation as a nightmare. Her dreams of completing high school and starting university had been abruptly halted, and her future remained uncertain due to the Taliban's takeover.
In such uncertain times, Mort emphasized the importance of listening to and understanding the concerns of young people and addressing their mental health while encouraging them to stay focused on their future. UNICEF, as a forward-looking organization, aims to provide young people with a platform to express themselves, realize their dreams, inspire each other, and connect. However, in the current situation in Afghanistan, this feels exceptionally challenging.
The unfulfilled potential of young people, particularly young women, is what keeps Sam Mort awake at night, underscoring the need for continued support and assistance in Afghanistan.