In Afghanistan, several NGOs suspend their activities following the ban on working with women

Afghan women protest in Kabul against the Taliban's decision to ban women from universities, Thursday, December 22, 2022.

On the next day of the order given by the Taliban authorities to national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to stop employing women, three foreign NGOs announced on Sunday 25 December that they were suspending their activities in Afghanistan.

“We are suspending our programs, demanding that men and women can equally continue our help to save lives in Afghanistan”explain Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE International in a joint statement.

“We cannot effectively help children, women and men in difficulty in Afghanistan without our female teams”continues the press release, which underlines the importance of women in the ranks of humanitarian associations, without whom they would not have “not been able to help millions of Afghans in need since August 2021”. The three NGOs also criticize a decision which, according to them, will “affecting thousands of jobs in the midst of a major economic crisis”.

A blow to humanitarian work

On Sunday, senior United Nations officials and dozens of NGOs operating in Afghanistan conferred on how to proceed after the Taliban ordered them to stop working with women. On Saturday evening, as the West prepared to celebrate Christmas, the Afghan Ministry of Economy ordered all non-governmental organizations to stop working with women or risk having their operating license suspended. It was unclear whether the directive applied to foreign female NGO staff.

In the letter sent to local and international NGOs, the ministry explains that it took this decision after receiving “serious complaints” that the women working there did not respect the wearing of “islamic hijab”. In Afghanistan, women are forced to cover their faces and their entire bodies.

“We were never told of any problem with the women’s dress code”reported Sunday an association manager on condition of anonymity. “The ban will impact all aspects of humanitarian work, as female employees hold key positions in projects targeting the country’s vulnerable female population”a senior official of a foreign NGO told AFP on Sunday.

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Crucial humanitarian aid for the country

Millions of Afghans depend on humanitarian aid provided by international donors through an extensive network of NGOs. In a statement, the UN reminded the Afghan authorities that by excluding women “systematically in all aspects of public and political life” they do “set the country back by undermining efforts to establish peace and meaningful stability”.

The noose around women has tightened in recent months. The Taliban, who returned to power in August 2021, prohibited them, less than a week ago, to attend public and private universities, for the same reasons of dress code not respected. They had already excluded them from secondary schools. They are further barred from many public jobs, cannot travel without a male relative, and have been ordered to cover themselves outside the home, ideally with a burqa. They are also not allowed to enter the parks.

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“This latest egregious rollback of the rights of girls and women will have far-reaching consequences for the provision of health, nutrition and education services to children”, tweeted Sunday the regional director of Unicef, George Laryea-Adjei. Dozens of organizations work in remote areas of Afghanistan, and many of their employees are women. Several of them warned that a ban on female staff would hamper their work. According to the United Nations and aid agencies, more than half of the country’s 38 million people need humanitarian assistance during the harsh winter.

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The World with AFP

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