Is EU aid contributing to gender equality?

As most of Afghanistan continues to be controlled by terror groups, the Commission must provide a gendered analysis of how EU foreign aid is being spent, says Barbara Matera.

Barbara Matera | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By Barbara Matera

27 Sep 2018

Afghanistan is suffering under terrorism. According to The Statistics Portal, in 2016 alone, more than 4500 people died in Afghanistan as a result of terrorism. Estimates from 2007 onwards put the total deaths at well over 33,000 people. On 22 April this year, a further 57 - including 22 women and eight children - people lost their lives when a suicide bomber attacked a voting station in the capital, Kabul.

Unfortunately, this is not a rarity in Afghanistan. Since the start of voter registration in May, multiple attacks have been launched against voting centres. One thousand registration centres are being closely monitored by the Afghani government, but authorities say a further 950 of these are located outside of the government’s control. 

The situation is so dire that the parliamentary elections, which were originally scheduled for 15 October 2016, have been postponed numerous times. They are now scheduled for 20 October 2018.


This kind of violence and intimidation is particularly stressful for a region that is already struggling with a weak democracy.

The Freedom House rated Afghanistan “not free” on their democracy rating, scoring a total of 24 points out of a possible 100. The Economist’s Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index gave Afghanistan a score of two out of 10. 

In fact, research conducted by the BBC in early 2017 determined that the Afghani government fully controls only 30 per cent of the country’s territory. This highlights the precarious situation many civilians face. The rest of the country is controlled by, or under constant threat of attack from, the Taliban or Isis.

Although the issue of terrorism in Afghanistan is widely acknowledged (and condemned) by the international community, there is a lack of attention paid to the disproportionate burden this puts on women, who are often casualties and face the struggle of protecting their families during times of civil unrest.

Meanwhile, the EU continues to flood Afghanistan with foreign aid. During the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan in 2016, the EU pledged €5bn for the period of 2016-2020. Furthermore, Afghanistan benefits from the EU’s ‘Everything but arms’ (EBA) scheme, which allows the country the most favourable trading regime available.

However, little attention is paid to how these funds on being spent, nor is there any kind of gendered analysis to determine which portion of these funds are dedicated to the promotion of women’s empowerment. This is despite the fact that studies show that engaging women in peace-building is an essential component of sustainable governance.

The EU’s efforts to help Afghani civilians is honourable, but when the vast majority of the country is occupied by Islamic militants, European tax-payers must wonder where their foreign aid is going. Is this aid contributing to the cultivation of gender equality, a foundational principle the EU has pledged to champion? Will the Commission commit to sharing the steps it has taken to implement gender budgeting in with this aid? These are questions the Commission need to answer.


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