When disasters like earthquakes strike, they can exacerbate existing inequalities in society, and this is particularly true in the Afghan context. Earthquakes especially deepen existing gender disparities, as well as presenting new challenges for women and girls, and making it harder for them to access critical support.

In early October, successive earthquakes struck Herat province and devastatingly, an estimated 1,500 have died. Women living in the most remote areas of Herat province are among the most affected by this worsening disaster: the UN has estimated that 90% of those who have lost their lives have been women and children. 

Why is Afghanistan prone to earthquakes?

This sobering percentage is not coincidental. Due to the initial earthquake striking in the middle of the day, when most male family members were working rural jobs in neighbouring fields, women were primarily at home doing household chores and caring for their children, which left them more vulnerable when buildings collapsed. 

Not only at greater risk when earthquakes hit, women and girls are now facing increased challenges in the aftermath of the earthquakes. As communities attempt to recover and rebuild, women in the region face huge challenges in accessing adequate sanitation and hygiene facilities, with one assessment finding that when affected communities did have access to latrines, these latrines were overwhelmingly unsafe for women and girls to use. 

The long-term impacts on rural women across the province will also be profound. Primarily engaged in home-based livelihoods such as tailoring, when Afghan women in remote areas lose their homes, they often lose their places of work and sources of income. They also lose their caregiving spaces, where they look after children and babies; elderly family members; and family members with disabilities. Without targeted support for women and girls, the vulnerabilities of all of these at-risk groups become heightened. By prioritising targeted assistance to women and girls, we can better support other marginalised communities in the region.

Female heads of households face additional challenges

In households without a male family member, it is extremely difficult for Afghan women and girls to receive assistance, as social norms typically dictate that they are unable to receive direct support from male humanitarian workers. Women may also be more at risk of not receiving information on earthquake preparedness, due to restrictions on their mobility, and barriers to education may make them less likely to fully absorb information that is presented to them. 

To compound this, female heads-of-households and widows are particularly vulnerable to socio-economic exclusion in Afghanistan. More likely to experience poverty and food insecurity, this discrimination decreases their chances of having social safety nets or community networks to rely on when disasters strike, and in turn weaken their ability to rebuild their lives. 

What assistance is needed most?

Our teams on the ground have been speaking and working with affected communities, and conducting rigorous assessments to ensure we fully cater to the needs of the most remote, vulnerable communities at this critical time.

When earthquakes hit, its effect on each family can vary hugely, and so it is imperative that humanitarian responses are fluid, to enable each household to prioritise the support that is most beneficial to them. Through providing cash assistance, we can ensure this flexibility, whilst also safeguarding the dignity and autonomy of each family, and strengthening their ability to play an active role in shaping their own futures. 

By supporting our earthquake appeal, you will help us distribute emergency cash to Herat province’s most vulnerable women, who can then buy the necessities they need, keep roofs over their heads and ensure they can start to rebuild for their families: 

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