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Taliban ban women from humanitarian work

17 April 20230 comments

The Taliban has faced international condemnation over a move to ban women working with United Nations agencies.

On 4 April, the Taliban announced that Afghan women would no longer be allowed to report to work at UN agencies, sparking an immediate outcry.

The UN Secretary-General’s special representative for Afghanistan, Roza Otunbayeva, issued a stern statement saying the move was unprecedented.

“In the history of the United Nations, no other regime has ever tried to ban women from working for the organisation just because they are women,’ Ms Otunbayeva said.

“This decision represents an assault against women, the fundamental principles of the UN, and on international law,” the statement said

It follows another edict in December banning Afghan women from working for national and international NGOs that sparked anger among Afghans, foreign workers and aid groups, several of which suspended their work in the country.

The UN, which says the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is currently the largest in the world, said banning women from participating in UN aid efforts will greatly affect its ability to reach the most vulnerable people in the country, particularly women and girls.

“Our colleagues on the ground at the UN mission in Afghanistan received word of an order by the de facto authorities that bans female national staff members of the UN from working,” said Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, in a briefing.

“We are still looking into how this development would affect our operations in the country. We expect to have more meetings with the de facto authorities in Kabul, on which we are trying to seek some clarity.”

Following Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban in August 2021, the UN remained committed to stay and deliver, while calling for unified support for the country’s people.

Decisions taken over the past year by Afghanistan’s fundamentalist leadership have included bans on women accessing higher education, working for NGOs, and accessing many public spaces.

“It goes without saying, but unfortunately, it does need saying, that female staff are essential for the United Nations to deliver life-saving assistance,” Mr Dujarric said.

“Such orders, as we saw today, violate the fundamental rights of women and infringe upon the principle of non-discrimination. Female staff members are essential to ensure the continuation of the UN operations on the ground in Afghanistan.”

Out of a population of about 40 million people in Afghanistan, the UN is trying to reach 23 million men, women, and children with humanitarian aid, he said.

“We will continue to pursue all avenues to ensure that we can reach the most vulnerable people, especially women and girls,” Mr Dujarric said.

Meanwhile, a statement from the IOM said no durable peace, recovery, or stability is possible without women’s active engagement and participation in the social, economic, and political life of their country.

“IOM will continue to assist the Afghan people – two-thirds of whom are in need of life-saving humanitarian assistance, including 6.5 million internally displaced people and 5.7 million returning migrants,” the statement said. 

“While the country is reeling from a severe economic and humanitarian crisis, this directive will significantly hinder the delivery of critical assistance to those most in need. “Women’s involvement in the delivery of aid is not just a principled response but an imperative for operational effectiveness as they play an essential role in IOM’s delivery of humanitarian assistance, especially to women and girls. We must ensure they have the needed access and support to continue their extraordinary work in safety throughout the country,” the statement said.