UN official, Taliban economy minister meet on Afghan women NGO ban
The top UN official in Kabul met with a Taliban government minister in Afghanistan's capital on Monday, following a decision by the country's new rulers to bar women from working for non-governmental organisations, the UN mission said.
The ban has already prompted four major international aid agencies to suspend operations in Afghanistan, raising the possibility that millions of people will be left without food, education, health care and other critical services during the harsh winter months.
Humanitarian officials have warned that excluding women from NGO work will have catastrophic consequences for the population by depriving them of lifesaving assistance.
The measure – the latest in restrictions on women's rights and freedoms in Afghanistan – was announced on Saturday by Qari Din Mohammed Hanif, the Taliban economy minister.
It was imposed allegedly because some female NGO employees in Afghanistan were not wearing the hijab, or Islamic headscarf, correctly.
Hanif at the time said that any organisation found not complying with the order will have its license revoked.
The UN mission in Afghanistan said in a tweet that its acting head, Ramiz Alakbarov, met with Hanif on Monday and called for a reversal of the ban.
"Millions of Afghans need humanitarian assistance and removing barriers is vital," the UN said, without providing more details about the meeting.
The four aid agencies stopped their operations in Afghanistan, saying they could not effectively reach people in desperate need without their female workforce.
Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE have been providing essential services and support amid plummeting living conditions.
Islamic Relief said its female staff were vital in providing essential healthcare, food and supporting widows and orphans.
It is temporarily suspending non-lifesaving activities in Afghanistan because of the ban, although its lifesaving health care will continue.
The Taliban takeover in mid-August 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final weeks of their pullout after 20 years of war, sent Afghanistan’s economy into a tailspin and transformed the country, driving millions into poverty and hunger.
Foreign aid stopped almost overnight.
Sanctions on the Taliban rulers, including a halt on bank transfers and the freezing of billions in Afghanistan's foreign assets have already restricted access to global institutions.
Funds from aid agencies helped prop up the country's aid-dependent economy before the Taliban takeover.
Qatar, which played a key role in facilitating the negotiations that led to the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan last year, expressed its "deep concern" on Sunday about the NGO ban imposed "under the pretext" that some female employees did not adhere to the Islamic dress code set by the government for women.
Doha called on the Taliban administration to review its decision, a foreign ministry statement said.
The ministry said it "stresses the need to respect women's right to work, given that the freedom to choose and accept work is a human right".
The order is the latest assault on women’s rights in Afghanistan by the Taliban, who recently barred women from attending universities, earlier this weekhttps://t.co/seDu1RlNu5— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) December 25, 2022
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation said the fundamental rights of Afghan women had been dealt yet "another severe blow" following the order.
Its secretary-general, Hissein Brahim Taha, said the move reflected a "willful policy… apparently seeking to further impact Afghan women's rights".
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell strongly condemned the Taliban-run administration's move, saying it amounts to erasing women from public spaces.
He urged the Taliban to lift their decision immediately, as part of their obligation to respect international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles.
"Together with other providers of assistance to the people of Afghanistan, the EU will have to consider what consequences this decision, and the recent decision by the Taliban to close universities for women, will have on their engagement with our countries and organisations," Borrell said in a statement.
Earlier last week, Taliban authorities stopped university education for women, sparking international outrage and demonstrations in Afghan cities.
Security in Kabul was intensified in recent days, with an increased number of checkpoints, armoured vehicles, Taliban special forces and armed officers on the streets.
The Taliban government's interior ministry and the Kabul police chief were not immediately available for comment on the tighter security.