Partiality in Aid Allocation by Community Representatives: Women Are Deprived of Receiving Humanitarian Assistance

By: Amin Kawa

The distribution of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan is a major concern for both the country’s citizens and the global community due to the actions and influence of the Taliban. Among the affected population are women, who face a ban on all aspects of public life, including employment with the United Nations. These women have raised complaints about the distribution process, asserting that local influential figures and Community Representatives collude with the Taliban to misuse the aid, resulting in it not reaching deserving women. Some women in need of assistance have repeatedly sought inclusion in the recipient list over the past two years but to no avail. Meanwhile, their male neighbors transport aid to their homes using private vehicles. Women’s rights activists identify the prohibition of women’s work in aid agencies as a key factor hindering their access to humanitarian assistance. The World Food Programme (WFP) acknowledges the limitations of its aid efforts but calls upon the media and the public to support increased transparency in aid distribution.

The distribution of humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, which is under Taliban control, is a critical issue in the humanitarian sector. Donor countries have repeatedly expressed concerns regarding the diversion of aid by the Taliban and affiliated groups. In an investigative report, the Hasht-e Subh Daily highlighted that 42,000 needy families in Ghor province have been deprived of humanitarian assistance due to Taliban interference. Additionally, the United States Department of State has announced the suspension of aid in Ghor, Ghazni, and Uruzgan provinces as a result of Taliban interference in the distribution process. The World Food Programme (WFP) has also halted aid distribution in Ghor province due to Taliban interference.

Citizens, particularly women, have raised concerns about the distribution of aid. Aasiya Hussaini, a resident of Kabul’s District 13, alleges that deserving women do not receive humanitarian assistance and that Community Representatives colluding with the Taliban misuse the aid. According to Ms. Hussaini’s account in the Hasht-e Subh Daily, she has contacted the Community Representative four times since last year, providing her identification document (Tazkira) each time. However, she was consistently rejected under the pretext of aid not yet being available or blocked. It is worth noting that our landlord owns a four-story building, two of which are rented out, generating a monthly rent of 10,000 Afghanis from each tenant. Every time aid arrives, it mysteriously ends up in the hands of people like him. On one occasion, when the landlord received aid, I captured a photo of the delivered assistance and confronted the Community Representative. I asked him, “Mr. Representative, I called you and you informed me that the aid process was still pending. Why did you provide aid to the landlord but neglected to include me and our neighbors on the list?” In response, the Community Representative stated, “They [the landlord] have been our neighbors for years, and I can’t exclude him!”

Ms. Hussaini, who is dissatisfied with the humanitarian aid distribution process, shares, “In a different neighborhood where my mother’s house is situated, my sister-in-law informs me that the owner of a three-story building in our alley receives humanitarian aid delivered by a vehicle. Frustrated, our neighbors and I approached the Community Representative and questioned why he doesn’t assist us while providing aid to this affluent family. The Community Representative responded, ‘When I was not present in this area, this family resolved all government-related issues and addressed various challenges faced by the alley. Therefore, they are given priority to receive aid!'”

She further adds, “I am acquainted with a family where the wife has seven daughters, and her husband is unwell, unable to work. She confides in me, ‘I have repeatedly approached the house of the Community Representative, but he dismissively informed me through the closed door that the aid is blocked, auntie, don’t bother me!'”

Shamsia is another woman who voices her concerns about the distribution process of humanitarian aid. She reveals the involvement of community representatives in favoritism and nepotism, resulting in women in need being deprived of assistance. These representatives not only provide benefits to the Taliban but also prioritize acquaintances and relatives. In District 13, specifically in the Gula-e Mahtab Qala area, there is a well-known community representative named “Wakil Barat.” Along with other representatives, they select specific houses where their preferred individuals reside. These houses are then presented as eligible for aid distribution during surveys, or the representatives may offer lunches to divert the attention of the surveyors. Additionally, they may request recipients to give half of their aid to the community representative. Another tactic involves assigning two individuals from one household, where one receives aid directly at home while the other person hands it over to the community representative. Consequently, the community representative exerts control over the surveyors, dictating terms and conditions according to their own interests.

According to Shamsia’s account, she recently witnessed the Community Representative and the Taliban collecting more than half of the cash assistance from the people. She believes that the absence of women in these organizations’ staff prevents them from defending their rights or filing complaints in the presence of men, as the Taliban would accuse them of being “sinful and misguided.” Shamsia further reveals an incident that took place a few months ago in the Silo area of the fifth district, where a social organization provided cash assistance to 34,000 Afghanis. Only 10,000 Afghanis reached deserving families, while the remaining amount was collected by the Community Representative.

In an interview with the Hasht-e Subh Daily, a female employee from the polio vaccination department shared her observations during the vaccination campaign. She has encountered numerous families who were eligible for assistance but did not receive any. The employee, working as a social worker in the Ministry of Public Works, reveals, “I have witnessed how Community Representatives prioritize their friends, tribes, and relatives, neglecting others who are in need of help.”

Another woman, who requested anonymity in the report, supports the claim that deserving women are not receiving humanitarian aid and the majority of women are being excluded from the distribution process. She reveals that the “Community Representatives” have appropriated the aid meant for six vulnerable families and taken it to their own homes.

According to another woman, in the past two years, even families who were previously better off financially have been experiencing severe need for humanitarian aid. However, the “Community Representatives” have neglected to include them in the list of aid recipients. She explains, “The Community Representatives are unaware of the current situation of some families who were previously financially stable. They are now unemployed, but the Community Representatives do not consider them for any assistance.”

The story of humanitarian aid distribution doesn’t end here. Some women interviewed by the Hasht-e Subh Daily discuss the tactics employed by certain individuals to receive aid. One woman reveals, “Some people collaborate with the Community Representatives and Street representatives. They vacate their multi-story buildings and temporarily rent a house. Once the verification and biometric processes are finished, they obtain the card and vacate the house. That’s the situation. Regrettably, not only are we deprived of humanitarian aid, but our rights have also been forcibly taken away through threats and torture.”

Mastora (pseudonym) reveals that in Kabul City, tenants are often excluded from receiving humanitarian aid. During her discussion with the Hasht-e Subh Daily, she shares, “I personally witnessed the Community Representative assisting the landlord, but when I approached him, he informed me that as a tenant, I was not eligible for this assistance, and they couldn’t help me.”

Prohibition of Women’s Employment in Aid Agencies and Women’s Lack of Access to Humanitarian Aid

Women’s rights activists assert that the prohibition of women’s employment in domestic and international organizations significantly hinders their access to humanitarian aid. They argue that when male surveyors, dressed in Taliban attire, visit homes to assess the situation, women are barred from being present, leaving their voices unheard. These women highlight the numerous challenges created by the absence of women in the distribution of humanitarian aid, particularly for those in dire need of assistance.

Kawsar Nawandish (pseudonym), one of the protesting women in Kabul, shared her experience with Hasht-e Subh Daily using a pseudonym due to heightened Taliban arrests. Nawandish highlights the issue, stating, “When surveyors visit homes, a Community Representative and a Taliban Representative accompany them, engaging in discussions with men who have been prearranged by the Community Representative. Women are excluded from these interactions. If a woman ventures out in such circumstances, she is subjected to harsh criticism, and fear of the Taliban prevents her from even being among men. If delegations included women, they could express their concerns without fear. Aid agencies heavily rely on the reports provided by their local staff. The absence of women in these agencies severely limits women’s access to humanitarian aid. If a compassionate individual is present, widows and orphans might be included in the assistance list, but if not, they are left deprived of everything.”

Marzia Ahmadi, a women’s rights activist, shares her perspective on the lack of access to humanitarian aid for women in a conversation with Hasht-e Subh Daily. She identifies the absence of female staff in relief organizations, along with harmful traditions and women’s exclusion from social spheres, as contributing factors. The prohibition of women’s employment in international organizations further exacerbates the issue. Ahmadi emphasizes the consequences, stating, “When women’s voices are silenced, society remains closed and under the influence of the Taliban. Fewer men will be motivated to address the suffering, hunger, and poverty faced by women, as the prevailing trend of male dominance is actively promoted. Naturally, women will encounter even greater challenges.”

WFP: Fair Distribution Requires Media and Public Support

In an interview with Hasht-e Subh Daily, Wahidullah Amani, the spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP), emphasized the organization’s commitment to providing timely and transparent food assistance to those in need. Amani calls upon the media and the public to support the WFP in enhancing transparency in aid distribution. He states, “We are exerting maximum effort to swiftly deliver our limited food aid and resources to deserving individuals, but the cooperation of the media and all involved parties in this process is crucial.”

In response to women’s complaints about the distribution process of food and cash assistance by the WFP, the spokesperson stated that they are actively investigating the issues raised. The spokesperson emphasized the importance of addressing any problems that arise in the process. They explained that the distribution process involves close coordination between the WFP, other United Nations agencies, entities involved in the process, and civil society organizations responsible for social welfare. Assessment teams are formed and deployed to conduct household visits in coordination with these entities. After preparing the lists, thorough evaluations are conducted. Due to limited resources, priority is given to individuals who truly deserve assistance and have greater needs than others. These individuals are included in the lists and receive both financial and food assistance.

Mr. Amani highlights the importance of addressing any concerns or suspicions about the distribution of aid by the World Food Programme (WFP). He emphasizes that if individuals believe that aid is being wasted or sold in markets instead of reaching those in need, they can file complaints through the organization’s toll-free complaint hotline. Mr. Amani encourages people to call the hotline between 8:00 am on Sunday and 4:00 pm on Thursday. If they have any supporting documents or evidence, they are encouraged to share it to help resolve the issue in the specific area. He assures individuals that their personal information will remain confidential. The toll-free complaint hotline number is 0790555544, accessible from all networks, although there might be instances when the line is busy, and callers are requested to exercise patience.

Eligible citizens are voicing their grievances about the distribution process of humanitarian aid. Reports indicate that these organizations have only received five percent of the requested budget for humanitarian assistance from the global community. In addition, the recent statement by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) highlights that the Taliban’s misappropriation of funds is leading to hunger among children, while the Taliban themselves benefit from the humanitarian aid.