The Taliban ban women’s NGO workers, jeopardizing aid efforts

  • The Taliban orders NGOs to suspend female staff
  • It comes after the expulsion of female students from universities
  • The UN says the order would severely affect humanitarian operations
  • The UN plans to meet with the Taliban to seek clarity

KABUL, Dec 24 (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Taliban-ruled administration on Saturday ordered all domestic and foreign non-governmental organizations to stop female staff, a move the United Nations said would affect humanitarian operations just as winter grips a country already in economic crisis.

A letter from the economy ministry, confirmed by spokesman Abdulrahman Habib, said non-governmental organization (NGO) workers were not allowed to work until further notice because some did not adhere to the administration’s interpretation of the Islamic dress code for women.

It comes days after an administration order universities to be close to womenwhich drew global condemnation and sparked some protests and heavy criticism in Afghanistan.

Both decisions are the latest restrictions on women that are likely to undermine the Taliban-ruled administration’s efforts to gain international recognition and clear sanctions that have severely hampered the economy.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Twitter he was “deeply concerned” that the move would “impede vital and life-saving aid to millions”, adding: “Women are central to humanitarian operations around the world. This decision could be disastrous for the Afghan people.”

Ramiz Alakperov, the UN’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan and humanitarian coordinator, told Reuters that although the UN had not received the order, contracted NGOs carry out most of its activities and would be badly affected.

“Many of our programs will be affected,” he said, because they need female staff to assess humanitarian needs and identify beneficiaries, otherwise they won’t be able to run aid programs.

The international humanitarian agency AfghanAid said it was immediately suspending operations while it consulted with other organizations and that other non-governmental organizations were taking similar action.

The potential threat to aid programs accessed by millions of Afghans comes as more than half the population relies on humanitarian aid, according to aid agencies, and during the mountainous nation’s coldest season.

“There is never a good time for something like this… but this particular time is very unfortunate because in the winter people are most in need and Afghan winters are very harsh,” Alekbarov said.

He said his office would consult with NGOs and UN agencies on Sunday and try to meet with Taliban officials for an explanation.

Aid workers say female workers are essential in a country where rules and cultural customs largely prevent male workers from delivering aid to female beneficiaries.

“An important principle in the provision of humanitarian aid is the possibility for women to participate independently and unhindered in its distribution, so if we cannot do it in a principled way, then no donors will finance such programs,” Alekperov said. said.

When asked if the rules directly involved UN agencies, Habib said the letter applied to organizations under Afghanistan’s coordinating body for humanitarian organizations, known as ACBAR. This body does not include the UN, but includes over 180 local and international NGOs.

Their licenses will be suspended if they do not comply, the letter said.

Afghanistan’s stalled economy has been in crisis since the Taliban took over in 2021, with the country facing sanctions, cuts in development aid and a central bank asset freeze.

A record 28 million Afghans are expected to need humanitarian aid next year, according to AfghanAid.

Kabul Newsroom reports; additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington Editing by Mark Potter and Josie Kao

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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