Afghanistan: Aid chief warns of dire consequences for 'hundreds of thousands' if ban on women NGO workers continues

Afghanistan: Aid chief warns of dire consequences for 'hundreds of thousands' if ban on women NGO workers continues
The Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council met with the Taliban this week and urged the hardline leaders to reverse their ban on female NGO workers.
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Jan Egeland said 'hundreds of thousands' would be put at risk if NRC continues to suspend its humanitarian work [Getty]

The Taliban must immediately reverse its ban on female aid workers so that vital humanitarian efforts in poverty-stricken Afghanistan can continue, warned the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) on Sunday. 

Jan Egeland visited Kabul this week to plead with the hardline group to overturn its December decree which barred Afghan women from participating in NGO operations. The order was issued because of alleged breaches of the Taliban's strict dress codes for women. 

The NRC is one of four major humanitarian organisations that temporarily suspended their Afghanistan missions after the ban was announced, cutting off emergency relief to millions of people across a country where 97 percent of the population risks falling below the poverty line.

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"Without our female colleagues we cannot work - we will not work," Egeland said while on the streets of Kabul. 

"We are not able to provide for the women of Afghanistan, but we would also not be a principled employer if we agreed to this." 

A video posted by Egeland on Twitter showed the aid chief speaking with senior members of the Taliban.

In the footage, the NRC secretary general said the hardline group understood the ban was a "real impasse" but gave no indication as to whether the issue had been resolved. 

The New Arab reached out to the organisation for comment on whether a solution had been reached, but received no response by the time of publication. 

In a previous interview with Afghan outlet TOLOnews, Egeland said that he was sure "we can find an agreement," suggesting that an official warning system for women who do not comply with strict dress codes could be issued to NGO staff. 

The aid chief stressed that his organisation would always respect "Afghan values" but didn’t want their values to be "trampled on" in return. 

The NRC has 1,541 staff members in Afghanistan, 469 of whom are female, according to their website. 

Since 15 August, NRC teams have assisted over 870,000 people affected by displacement across 18 provinces in Afghanistan. Relief efforts include the provision of education, shelter, legal assistance, food and water. They had planned to reach around 700,000 people in 2023. 

Since the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, the hardline group has imposed increasingly repressive measures on women and girls, including banning females from attending schools and universities and prohibiting them from entering some public spaces.