Senior UN officials and dozens of NGOs operating in Afghanistan will meet in Kabul on Sunday to discuss the way forward after Taliban authorities ordered all NGOs to bar female employees from working, humanitarian officials said.
The order issued by the Taliban authorities drew swift international condemnation, with governments and organizations warning of the impact on humanitarian services in a country where millions depend on aid.
The latest restriction comes less than a week after hardline Islamists banned women from attending universities, sparking global outrage and protests in some Afghan cities.
The economy ministry on Saturday threatened to suspend NGOs’ operating licenses if they didn’t comply with the order.
The ministry, which issues these licenses, said it had received “serious complaints” that women working in NGOs were not observing proper Islamic dress code.
“A meeting of the Humanitarian Country Team (HCT) is scheduled later today to consult and discuss how to address this issue,” Tapiwa Gomo, public information officer for the United Nations Office for Coordination, told AFP. of humanitarian affairs.
The HCT includes senior UN officials and representatives of dozens of Afghan and international NGOs who coordinate aid distribution across the country.
The meeting will discuss whether to suspend all aid work following the latest Taliban directive, some NGO officials said.
The United Nations, which has stated that it intends to ask the Taliban for an explanation of the order, has condemned the ministry’s directive.
She said the order that excludes women “systematically from all aspects of public and political life pushes the country back, jeopardizing efforts for meaningful peace or stability in the country.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the ban would be “devastating” for Afghans as it would “cut off vital, life-saving assistance to millions of people”.
– ‘Hell for Women’ –
“I am the sole breadwinner in my family. If I lose my job my 15-member family will starve,” said Shabana, 24, an employee of an international NGO who has been working in Afghanistan for decades.
“As the world celebrates the arrival of the new year, Afghanistan has become a hell for women.”
The ministry said women working in NGOs did not observe “the Islamic hijab and other rules and regulations related to women’s work in national and international organisations”.
But the female employees AFP spoke to denied the allegation.
“Our offices are segregated by gender and every woman is dressed appropriately,” said Arezo, who works for another foreign NGO.
It is unclear whether the directive has had an impact on foreign female NGO staff.
The ban comes at a time when millions of people across the country depend on humanitarian aid provided by international donors through an extensive network of NGOs.
Afghanistan’s economic crisis has only worsened since the Taliban took power in August last year, leading Washington to freeze billions of dollars of its assets and foreign donors to cut aid.
Dozens of organizations work in remote areas of Afghanistan and many of their employees are women, with several warnings that a ban on female staff would hamper their work.
“The ban will impact all aspects of humanitarian work as female employees have been the main implementers of various projects targeting the country’s vulnerable female population,” said a senior official of a foreign NGO in Kabul.
On Tuesday, the minister of higher education banned women from universities, accusing them of not being dressed properly.
That ban sparked widespread international outrage and some protests, which were forcibly dispersed by the authorities.
Since returning to power in August last year, the Taliban has already barred teenage girls from secondary school.
Women have also been expelled from many government jobs, barred from traveling without a male relative, and forced to cover themselves outside the home, ideally in a burqa.
They also cannot enter parks or gardens.
The Taliban have also resumed public floggings of men and women in recent weeks, broadening their implementation of an extreme interpretation of Islamic sharia law.