Violations of women's rights by preventing them from working and pursuing higher education are costing Afghanistan $1 billion a year, creating a severe economic and social crisis across the nation

The high economic cost of excluding women in Afghanistan

PHOTO/FILE - The ban on women working alone led to a 21% increase in unemployment

On 15 August 2021, the Taliban took back control of Afghanistan. The gains in equality that had been made over two decades were wiped out in a few weeks. Women were banned from working, except in certain sectors and jobs, from secondary and higher education and from travelling outside the home without being accompanied by a man. 

The Taliban's restrictions have dented Afghanistan's economy since they came to power in 2021. Excluding half of the country's population from the labour market and from public life in general has further plunged the country into a severe economic and humanitarian crisis. GDP has declined by 5% in one year due to the ban on women working alone. These restrictions have not only had a social and psychological impact on those affected, but have exacerbated the situation throughout the country, making 25 million Afghans dependent on UN aid for survival.


The country is facing a severe humanitarian crisis with high levels of food insecurity across the nation due to continuous droughts, extreme winter and rising prices of fertilisers, pesticides and imported seeds. Despite being a predominantly agricultural country, where 33.5% of GDP in 2021 came from the primary sector, the food basket increased by 35% in 2022, forcing households to take on more debt or sell their assets just to survive.

In 2020, Afghanistan's GDP, according to the World Bank, was $20.4 billion, of which $9 billion was humanitarian aid. According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) GDP has further decreased by 3.6% in 2022 after the 20.7% contraction in 2021. Last year, aid was only $3.7 billion.  In a country where 44% of GDP depended on humanitarian aid when the pandemic broke out, the fragility of the economic sector is enormous. Dependence on foreign aid and the lack of a solid productive fabric and diversification of productive sectors make the country unusually vulnerable. 


By mid-2022, one in three businesses had temporarily ceased to operate and nearly 700,000 jobs had been lost, according to the latest UNDP Afghanistan Economic Status Report. The ban on women working alone led to a 21% increase in unemployment

9 billion in foreign assets have been frozen and sanctions on the country have led to a severe liquidity crisis, with the banking and financial sector severely affected. 


Although there has been an increase in exports and domestic tax revenues in 2022, the recovery is weak. UNDP estimates project GDP to increase by 1.3% in 2023 and 0.4% in 2024. Both are well below the population growth rate of over 2%, implying that per capita incomes will continue to decline. 

Leaving half of a country's population out of the economy, education etc., will not allow the country to develop in the short or long term. "Getting women fully back to work is key to transforming Afghanistan's economy and lifting the country out of poverty and crisis," said Alison Davidian, UN Women's representative in Afghanistan.