World Bank freezes Afghan projects worth $600m over girls’ school ban

Girl students are seen in a class in Kabul, Afghanistan

The World Bank has suspended four projects in Afghanistan worth $600m (£458m), after the Taliban banned girls from returning to secondary schools.

The projects’ aims included improving education, health and agriculture. They also had a “strong focus on ensuring that girls and women participate and benefit from the support,” the bank had said earlier.

Last week, the Taliban reversed a decision to allow the schools to open following months of restrictions. The Taliban said schools would only reopen after a decision over uniforms for female students had been made in accordance with “Sharia law and Afghan tradition”.

The move has drawn international condemnation, while on Saturday protestors gathered close to the Ministry of Education in the country’s capital Kabul to demand that the schools be reopened. The World Bank projects were targeted at giving women and girls as much access to services in Afghanistan, as men.

They are financed by the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which was frozen last year after the Taliban took control of the country. At the start of this month, the executive board of the World Bank approved a plan to use more than $1bn from the fund to support “urgent needs” including those in education, agriculture and health.

Under the plan, the money would not be handed to Taliban authorities, and was instead to be distributed through United Nations agencies and aid groups. “As a first step, the ARTF donors will decide on four projects of approximately $600m to support urgent needs in the education, health, and agriculture sectors, as well as community livelihoods,” the bank said in a statement on 1 March.

“This $600m will be supplemented with additional allocations from the ARTF during 2022 as conditions allow,” it added. “This phased approach is designed to be flexible and adaptive, recognizing that the situation on the ground remains fluid.”

On Friday, a joint statement by officials from 10 countries, including the US and UK, described the Taliban’s actions as “profoundly disturbing”. The US State Department has also cancelled meetings with the Taliban, which were scheduled to take place in Qatar.

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