Top UN and NGO officials to meet over Taliban ban on female personnel

Senior UN officials and dozens of NGOs operating in Afghanistan will meet on Sunday to discuss the way forward after Taliban authorities ordered all NGOs to cut off the work of female employees, humanitarian officials said.

Hardline Islamists on Saturday threatened to suspend NGOs’ operating licenses if they didn’t comply with the order.

The economy ministry, which issues these licenses, said it had received “serious complaints” that women working in NGOs were not observing a correct 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”.

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 suspend aid.

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”.

It is unclear whether the directive has had an impact on foreign female NGO staff.

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 latest restriction comes less than a week after Taliban authorities banned women from attending universities, prompting global outrage and protests in some Afghan cities.

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.

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