At least half a dozen major foreign aid groups have said they will temporarily suspend operations in Afghanistan after the Taliban banned female non-governmental organization employees from coming to work.
“We cannot effectively reach children, women and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without our female staff,” aid organizations Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Norwegian Refugee Council said in a joint statement on Sunday. and CARE International.
“While we clarify this announcement, we are suspending our programs, demanding that men and women can continue our life-saving assistance in Afghanistan equally,” said the statement, which was signed by the heads of the three NGOs.
Another aid group, the International Rescue Committee, said that of more than 8,000 people working in Afghanistan, more than 3,000 are women. “If we are not allowed to hire women, we will not be able to deliver to those in need,” he said in a statement on Sunday, announcing he was halting operations in the country.
Afghanaid also suspended its work in Afghanistan following the Taliban’s move, while Islamic Relief said it had been forced to “temporarily suspend non-life-saving activities in Afghanistan”.
The Taliban administration on Saturday ordered all local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to prevent their female employees from coming to work, according to a letter from the Ministry of Economy sent to all authorized NGOs. Failure to comply will result in the revocation of the licenses of these NGOs, the ministry said.
David Wright, chief operating officer of Save the Children International, told CNN on Monday that the organization was unable to “reach tens of thousands of vulnerable mothers and children across the country” because of the ban.
“We can’t go out to work because we need our colleagues to help us get access to women and children. You can’t access education for young mothers or young children if you don’t have female staff, because in Afghanistan it’s not appropriate to have all-male staff looking after young women or children,” she said.
In the letter, the ministry cites non-compliance with Islamic dress codes and other laws and regulations as reasons for the decision.
“Recently there have been serious complaints regarding non-compliance with the Islamic hijab and the laws and regulations of other Islamic emirates,” the letter says, adding that as a result, “a direction is given to suspend work of all female employees of national and international non-governmental organizations”. organizations…”
The new restrictions mark another step in the Taliban’s brutal crackdown on Afghan women’s freedoms, following the hardline Islamist group’s takeover of the country in August 2021.
While the Taliban have repeatedly claimed that they will protect the rights of girls and women, they have in fact done the opposite, stripping away the freedoms that women have fought tirelessly for over the past two decades.
“The Supreme Leader is doing everything he can … to make women as powerless as possible, even if there are other factions that say otherwise,” Afghan activist Pashtana Durrani told CNN on Sunday .
“The Taliban don’t care. They want women as limited as possible, especially the supreme leader,” he added.
Earlier this week, the Taliban government suspended university education for all female students in Afghanistan.
In a televised press conference on Thursday, the Taliban’s higher education minister said they had banned women from universities for not observing Islamic dress codes and other “Islamic values”, citing female students traveling without a male guardian . The move sparked outrage among women in Afghanistan.
A group of women took to the streets of the city of Herat on Saturday to protest against the university’s ban. Video footage circulating on social media showed Taliban officials using a water cannon to disperse the protesters. Girls could be seen running from the water cannon and chanting “cowards” at the officials.
Some of the Taliban’s most shocking restrictions have been around education, with girls banned from returning to secondary schools in March. The move devastated many students and their families, who described to CNN their shattered dreams of becoming doctors, teachers or engineers.
The United Nations condemned the Taliban’s NGO announcement on Saturday and said it would try to secure a meeting with Taliban leaders to seek clarity.
“Women must be empowered to play a critical role in all aspects of life, including humanitarian response. Banning women’s work would violate women’s most fundamental rights, as well as being a clear violation of humanitarian principles,” the UN statement said. “This latest decision will only further harm the most vulnerable, especially women and girls.”
UNICEF said the order was a “flagrant reversal of the rights of girls and women (which) will have radical consequences for the provision of health, nutrition and education services for children”.
Amnesty International called for the ban to be “immediately revoked” and for the Taliban to “stop abusing their power”.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Sunday it was particularly concerned about the future of Afghanistan’s health system and women.
The ICRC said it supports 45 health structures in Afghanistan, including hospitals and medical schools. Among others, it pays the salaries of 10,483 health workers, 33% of whom are women.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the move on Saturday. “Deeply concerned that the Taliban’s ban on women delivering humanitarian aid to Afghanistan is disrupting vital and life-saving assistance to millions,” he wrote on Twitter. “Women are fundamental in humanitarian operations around the world. This decision could be devastating for the Afghan people.”
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says US officials should “not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs”.
“These organizations operating in Afghanistan are required to comply with the laws and regulations of our country,” he tweeted on Sunday, adding: “We do not allow anyone to utter irresponsible words or make threats about the decisions or officials of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” under the heading of humanitarian aid.”