Coverage of the living situation of women and children in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban (fact-finding mission for the Federal Foreign Office and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

Establishment of an ultrasound consultation with training courses

Country: Afghanistan
Project management: Michael Runge
Funding amount: 25,000 euros
Duration: 2002
Local project partner: German-Afghan Medical Association
Sponsor: German Academic Exchange Service DAAD, materra
Contact: Michael Runge

In January 2002 our board member Michael Runge was asked by the Foreign Office and the DAAD in his capacity as an expert on women’s health issues in developing countries to visit Afghanistan and Kabul to assess the situation of women and children after the collapse of the Taliban regime. At the same time, the condition of the universities and other training institutions should be assessed. The results should be reflected in a report with recommendations for German engagement in the civil reconstruction of the country.

First arrival at the Hindu Kush in Kabul in January 2002

When we arrived, Kabul looked like a landscape of rubble after years of civil war, but also American bombings as a result of November 9th.
The hospitals we visited were in a pitiful state, as hardly any money had flowed into the health system for decades, let alone into the care of women and small children. For lack of resources, caesarean sections were performed only to save the mothers and not their children, if at all, which in turn resulted in a large number of injured children for whom specialized care was not available. Due to the lack of and forbidden contraception, the women were exposed to thousands of unwanted pregnancies and risky abortions. All in all, the maternal and child mortality rate and the number of illnesses rose to rates never seen before. In 2002, Afghanistan was the rear light in matters of women’s and children’s health.

Kabul is in ruins after years of civil war. In public there are only men and many children, but only a few women in blue burqas.

Despite all the misery, strong women always stood out from the patriarchal society that I would call the real heroes of Afghanistan. They were teachers who were banned from their profession, who nevertheless secretly taught children, and gynecologists who nevertheless treated sick and pregnant women at the risk of their lives because they were women.

They did not have access to modern equipment or medication, and yet they risked their reputation and helped. In everyday life, like nurses and patients, they were often exposed to the harassment and assaults of their male colleagues (the latter, incidentally, led to the fact that today almost only women work in the women’s departments).

As the weakest members of society, children and women suffer most

Our investigations and observations in Kabul 2002 led to the conclusion that women and children represent the most needy group in Afghan society, since they had been deprived of the simplest human rights and their state of health was among the worst that our planet, with all its crises and wars, was still young the new millennium had to offer.

Our recommendation was therefore that German engagement in civil reconstruction should focus not only on infrastructural aid and military training for Afghan security forces but above all on the health of women and their small-
children and should focus on their schooling. German development cooperation projects should therefore always be designed to be women-relevant and, if possible, women-specific.

Under the Taliban, medical care for women in hospitals was undesirable and almost impossible. Only a few gynecologists risked their lives and still helped.

Our experiences were reported in a report in the FAZ am Sonntag (see press) and after our return we received a donation of 20,000 euros. Since a further cooperation with the German-Afghan Medical Association was emerging at this time, we designed the first entry into the health sector with our Afghan colleagues by financing the first modern ultrasound device with the donations received and colleagues on site the first ultrasound courses in the Performed gynecology and obstetrics for a year.

Except for the markets, public life in Afghanistan had come to a standstill. Women were only allowed to enter the market when accompanied by men.

Contact: Michael Runge

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