On 17th December the Taliban government in Afghanistan announced that all local and international N.G.O.s were to stop female employees from coming to work. Government representatives have claimed that this was brought on by some N.G.O.s not adhering to the regime’s interpretation of the Islamic dress code for women. Non-compliance is to result in licenses being revoked. This action is set to have devastating effects as women constitute one-third of international organisation employees and are essential to delivering the much-needed aid on which over two-thirds of Afghan people rely.
Days after the announcement, women’s rights took another hit in Afghanistan. The letter sent by the Ministry of Economy to all licensed N.G.O.s states that “lately there have been serious complaints regarding not observing the Islamic hijab and other Islamic Emirate’s laws and regulations,” further adding that as a result “guidance is given to suspend work of all female employees of national and international non-governmental organisations.” The ban applies to N.G.O.s under Afghanistan’s coordinating body for humanitarian organisations, known as A.C.B.A.R, including around 1,080 organisations. As of yet, the ban does not apply to U.N. agencies.
There has been an outpouring of condemnation from the international community which has caused several international N.G.O.s to suspend their missions in Afghanistan. Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council and C.A.R.E. International made a joint statement stating that “we cannot effectively reach children, women, and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without our female staff.” Furthermore, they announced that “whilst we gain clarity on this announcement, we are suspending our programmes, demanding that men and women can equally continue our life-saving assistance in Afghanistan”. The I.R.C. also shared that it would also be suspending services in Afghanistan and state that the exclusion of women from humanitarian service delivery will have “catastrophic consequences…our services depend on women workers.” Other international N.G.O.s have followed this stance and have also highlighted that female workers are essential in Afghanistan where cultural and religious customs essentially prevent male employees from delivering aid to female recipients.
In an attempt to urge the Taliban administration to reverse their decision, Ramiz Alakbarov, the acting head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, met the Taliban’s acting economics minister Mohammad Hanif. However, these concerns were dismissed as a spokesperson for the Taliban tweeted that “we do not allow anyone to talk rubbish or make threats regarding the decisions of our leaders under the title of humanitarian aid.” In response to this reaction, a statement was released by the U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths announcing that some of its “time-critical” programs in Afghanistan will be suspended.
The people of Afghanistan rely on the work of N.G.O.s. Nearly 20 million people are hungry and nearly six million survive on less than one meal a day. Afghanistan has long been dealing with a struggling economy, however, the situation was exasperated when the Taliban took over in 2021. The country has since faced sanctions, cuts in development aid, and a freeze in central bank assets. In such dire conditions, it is indisputable that there will be deadly consequences from a lack of aid for the people, however, the international community must put their foot down and stand together against the Taliban’s blatant discriminatory policies.
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