Foreign Minister Antony Blinken said on Saturday that a decision by the Taliban to ban women in Afghanistan from working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could be “devastating” for people in the country.
Blinken said in a tweet that he was “deeply concerned” that the decision would affect the delivery of “vital and life-saving aid to millions.”
“Women are central to humanitarian missions all over the world. This decision could be devastating for the Afghan people,” he said.
The Taliban introduced the rule on Saturday, allegedly because women were not wearing their hijab, the Islamic headscarf, correctly. Three major international aid organizations — Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE — responded by suspending their activities in Afghanistan, as they could not effectively reach those in need without women on their staff.
The organizations had provided health care, education, child protection and nutrition, as well as support to the country, which has experienced rapid levels of poverty since the Taliban came to power last August.
The Taliban Ministry of Economy said it had received “serious complaints” that women working for NGOs were not wearing the “right” headscarves.
Afghan economy bottomed out after the Taliban returned to power in the country at the end of the war, as foreign aid was cut off almost immediately. The sanctions imposed on Taliban leaders, the suspension of bank transfers and the freezing of billions of dollars in foreign reserves further burdened the country, whose economy relied on foreign aid to remain stable.
The Taliban also separately banned women from attending religious classes in mosques in the capital Kabul on Saturday, days after they banned female students from attending universities across the country.
The international community has sharply criticised the ban on university attendance, and Afghan women have protested in major cities across the country.
Taliban security officials responded to a demonstration in the western city of Herat by using water cannons against demonstrators.
The UN has announced that it will meet with the Taliban leadership to clarify the order.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.