Afghan Women, Aid Delivery Not Helped by Allied Gains, UN Says

U.S. and allied military gains in Afghanistan have failed to yield corresponding progress in delivery of humanitarian aid or protection of women from violence and discrimination, the United Nations said.

Access of aid workers to areas of southern Afghanistan where U.S.-led military forces are concentrating efforts to defeat Taliban insurgents hasn’t improved and has worsened in regions where the conflict has spread, UN Assistant Secretary- General Catherine Bragg told reporters today in New York.

“Aid workers do not have access to roughly half of the country,” Bragg, the deputy humanitarian relief coordinator, said in a report on her trip last week to the capital Kabul and the southern Kandahar Province, considered the heartland of the Taliban.

“As the conflict spreads to other parts of the country, other than the south, we are increasingly losing access, particularly in the northern areas where we used to have access,” Bragg said. “It is getting to be more and more of a concern.”

The assessment follows recent trips to Afghanistan by U.S. President Barack Obama and Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron during which they said allied troops were succeeding in their mission to defeat the Taliban. General David Richards, Britain’s most senior military commander, said there has been “an astronomical rate of progress.”

“The general agenda of security, governance and development does not leave a whole lot of room for humanitarian issues,” Bragg said. “Armed opposition groups are equally keen to minimize the effect” of international aid.

Millions Need Food

Bragg said as many as eight million Afghans, almost a third of the nation’s population, need food aid.

A UN report, released today in Kabul, said a law passed in August 2009 to protect women from discrimination and violence hasn’t improved their lives because it isn’t being enforced. The law makes it a crime to buy and sell women for marriage and to force a woman to marry without her consent.

“These harmful practices are widespread,” Georgette Gagnon, director of human rights for the UN mission to Afghanistan, said at a news conference today in Kabul, according to a transcript provided by the UN. “Little meaningful and sustainable progress for women’s rights can be achieved in Afghanistan as long as women and girls are subject to these practices.”

The report found that “law enforcement authorities often are unwilling or unable to apply laws that protect women’s rights and that such inaction is one of the main factors that permits harmful traditional practices.” The police and judiciary “take a selective rather than impartial approach to administering justice.”

‘Moral’ Crimes

The report said half of all girls are married under the age of 15 and Afghanistan has the world’s worst maternal mortality rate. Half of all women in prison were sentenced for “moral” crimes such as running away from their husbands or families, the UN said.

Obama last year ordered 30,000 more troops into the war. The U.S. and its partners have fielded a combined force of almost 150,000 to turn back Taliban advances and train enough Afghan soldiers and police to take over starting in July.

More than 1,000 U.S. troops have been killed in the nine-year conflict in Afghanistan, which harbored al-Qaeda before the U.S. ousted the Taliban from power after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Afghanistan’s ambassador to the UN didn’t respond to a request for a comment on the UN reporting.