Outcry intensifies after Taliban bars women from working with NGOs


The UN has announced the suspension of critical operations in Afghanistan following the Taliban government's ban on female employees working with aid groups. Foreign ministers from 12 countries and the EU – including the United States and France – have urged the Taliban to reverse its decision.

On Wednesday, the United Nations said in a statement that some "time-critical" programs in Afghanistan have temporarily stopped and warned many other activities will also likely need to be paused because of a ban by the Taliban-led administration on women aid workers.

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths, the heads of UN agencies and several aid groups underlined that women's "participation in aid delivery is not negotiable and must continue," calling on the authorities to reverse the decision.

"Banning women from humanitarian work has immediate life-threatening consequences for all Afghans. Already, some time-critical programmes have had to stop temporarily due to lack of female staff," the joint statement read.

The ban on female aid workers was announced by the Islamist Taliban-led administration on Saturday.

It follows a ban imposed last week on women attending universities, while girls were stopped from attending high school in March.

Taliban tightens its grip

Maryam – whose name has been changed for security reasons – is the director of an NGO that makes orthopaedic prosthetics.

Since Christmas Day, she and her female employees have had to stay at home.

Speaking to RFI, she said "If we don't have female orthopaedic technicians, female patients cannot be treated, because they cannot be treated by men.

"I am disabled. I lost both my legs in an explosion. Despite this, I have not been limited in my life. I studied until I got my master's degree and became a person who helps other women like me," she said. 

Somaya is a psychologist. She told RFI that since women have been banned from working life, public spaces and access to education, she struggles to provide support for her patients.

"Many girls who can no longer work and go to university try to commit suicide. Some of my patients have taken rat poison, they have tried to end their lives to escape this slow-death that we are experiencing," she laments.

"This situation is very difficult for me, even though I am a psychologist. But I do my best to motivate the other women who visit me. I tell them that this situation will not last forever," she says. 

For the time being, Somaya can continue to work because the NGO that employs her is under the Ministry of Health.

However, she doesn't know how long she will be able to escape the Taliban's stranglehold on women that is tightening every day.

International condemnation

Separately, 12 countries and the EU jointly called on the Taliban to reverse the ban on female aid workers and allow women and girls to return to school.

The statement was issued by the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Britain, the United States and the European Union.

According to statement, the ban on female aid workers "puts at risk millions of Afghans who depend on humanitarian assistance for their survival."

Four major global groups, whose humanitarian aid has reached millions of Afghans, said on Sunday that they were suspending operations because they were unable to run their programs without female staff.

The ban on female aid workers comes at a time when more than 28 million people in Afghanistan require assistance to survive as the country grapples with the risk of famine conditions, economic decline, entrenched poverty and a brutal winter.

The Taliban seized power in August last year. They largely banned education of girls when last in power two decades ago but had said their policies had changed.

The Islamist administration, however, has not been recognised internationally.