3 foreign NGOs stop working in Afghanistan after Taliban bans female staff

The ban is the latest blow to women’s rights. (representative)


Three foreign aid groups suspended operations in Afghanistan on Sunday after the country’s Taliban rulers ordered all NGOs to stop working with female staff.

Their statement drew warnings from senior UN officials and NGOs in Afghanistan that humanitarian aid would be hit hard.

“Without our women staff, we would not be able to effectively reach children, women and men in desperate need in Afghanistan,” Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE said in a joint statement.

“While we have clear knowledge of this statement, we are suspending our program and asking men and women to continue our lifesaving assistance in Afghanistan.”

The economy ministry’s order on Saturday drew swift international condemnation.

The ban is the latest blow to women’s rights.

It came less than a week after hardline Islamists banned women from college, sparking global outrage and protests in some Afghan cities.

The ministry has threatened to revoke the operating licenses of aid organizations that fail to prevent women from working.

It said it had received “serious complaints” that women working in NGOs were not observing proper Islamic dress codes, which authorities have also used as a reason to ban university education.

But Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, told AFP that the ban would hinder aid delivery to millions and have a “devastating” impact on the country’s shattered economy.

“Continuing humanitarian aid in an independent and equitable manner will be very difficult because the participation of women is very important,” Mr Alakbarov said.

“We will discuss the matter with the authorities … and we will insist on the lifting of the ban.”

German Foreign Minister Annalene Berberk also called for a “clear international response” on Sunday.

“Devastating economic impact”

At a meeting of humanitarian officials on Sunday, no decision was taken on whether all NGOs would suspend operations, according to Mr Alakbarov, who added that more discussions would take place.

He acknowledged the ban would affect the functioning of the United Nations as it distributes aid through its vast network of non-governmental organisations.

“This has a direct impact on our ability to execute the program and our ability to provide assistance, both food and non-food,” he said.

The ban would also have an “extremely damaging” impact on the Afghan economy, which has been thrown into turmoil since the withdrawal of foreign troops last August.

“All the assistance that’s been given to Afghanistan during this period is very important, whether it’s for nutritional security or for people’s job security,” he said.

Afghanistan’s economic crisis has worsened since the Taliban took power, leading Washington to freeze billions of dollars in assets and foreign donors to cut aid.

Dozens of organizations working in remote parts of Afghanistan, many of which employ women, have warned that the ban will hamper their activities.

“Some NGOs have as many as 2,000 female employees and in most cases they are the sole breadwinners of the families,” Mr Alakbarov said.

“Women’s Hell”

Shabana, 24, told AFP she was the only earner in her family.

“If I lose my job, my family of 15 will starve to death,” said Shabana, who has worked for decades at a foreign NGO and revealed only one name.

“While the whole world is celebrating the arrival of the new year, Afghanistan has become a hell for women.”

The ministry said women working in NGOs did not abide by “Islamic hijab and other rules and regulations pertaining to women’s work in national and international organisations”.

But the NGO staff dismissed the allegations.

“Our offices are gender-segregated and every woman dresses appropriately,” said Arezzo, who works for another foreign NGO, also giving only one name.

It was unclear whether the directive affected foreign staff of NGOs.

The international community has made respect for women’s rights a sticking point in negotiations with the Taliban government, seeking recognition and restoring aid.

On Tuesday, the higher education minister banned women from universities and accused them of dressing inappropriately.

The ban sparked widespread international outrage and protests, which were forcibly dispersed by authorities.

The Taliban have banned teenage girls from secondary school.

Women have also been kicked out of many government jobs, banned from traveling without male relatives and ordered to leave their homes, preferably wearing a burqa.

They are also not permitted to enter parks or gardens.

(Aside from the title, this story is unedited by NDTV staff and published via a syndicated feed.)

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