The UN mission in Afghanistan has called on the country’s Taliban government to reverse its ban on women working in charitable organizations. Major global non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have withdrawn from the country in response to the restrictions.
“Millions of Afghans need humanitarian aid, and removing barriers is critical,” the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a statement on Monday. The statement added that the acting head and humanitarian coordinator of UNAMA, Ramiz Alakbarov, had met with Minister of Economy Mohammad Hanif.
Hanif’s Ministry on Saturday ordered all local and foreign NGOs not to allow female employees to work until further notice. The regulations do not apply directly to the UN, but many of its programs are carried out by NGOs, which are subject to the regulation.
On Sunday, three global NGOs — Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE International — said in a joint statement that they would suspend their programs as they await clarification on the government’s order.
“Without our female staff, we cannot effectively reach children, women and men in urgent need in Afghanistan,” the statement said, adding that without the support of women since August last year, they would not have reached millions of Afghans in need.
Separately, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a statement that it was suspending its services in the country, citing similar reasons. IRC states that it employs more than 8,000 people in Afghanistan, including almost 3,000 women.
The suspension of some aid programs, which millions of Afghans use, comes at a time when, according to aid organizations, more than half of the population is in need of humanitarian aid, and during the coldest season of the mountain state.
Earlier, the international aid organization AfghanAid had announced that it would immediately shut down operations while consulting with other organizations and that other NGOs would take similar measures.
The International Committee of the Red Cross in Afghanistan also expressed concern on Sunday about the move and an earlier ban on university studies for women and warned of “disastrous humanitarian consequences in the short to long term.”
However, the Taliban government has so far shown no sign of reconsidering the bans on women working in NGOs or studying at universities.
On Saturday, the Ministry of Commerce, which issues licenses to non-profit organizations, said it had received “serious complaints” that women working in NGOs did not comply with “the Islamic hijab and other rules and regulations for women’s work in national and international organizations.”
Dozens of organizations operate in remote areas of Afghanistan, and many of their employees are women. Some warn that a ban on female employees would hinder their work.
The latest restriction comes less than a week after Taliban authorities banned women from attending university, which has led to worldwide outrage and protests in some Afghan cities.
Since returning to power in August last year, the Taliban have also excluded teenage girls from secondary school.
Women were also evicted from many jobs in the government, prevented from traveling without a male relative, and told to cover up outside the home, ideally wearing a burqa.
They are also not allowed to enter parks or gardens.