Foreign ministers of 12 countries and the EU, including the United States and Britain, urged Afghanistan’s Taliban-led government on Wednesday to reverse its decision barring female employees of aid groups.
“The Taliban’s reckless and dangerous order barring female employees of national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from the workplace puts at risk millions of Afghans who depend on humanitarian assistance for their survival,” said the statement by the foreign ministers of the United States, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the EU as reported by Reuters.
Taliban orders NGOs to send women workers home
The ban comes days after the Taliban-run government ordered universities to suspend classes for women until further notice.
Afghanistan’s Taliban-run administration has ordered all local and foreign nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) to stop female employees from coming to work, according to an economy ministry letter, in the latest crackdown on women’s freedoms.
The letter, confirmed by economy ministry spokesperson Abdulrahman Habib on Saturday, said the female employees were not allowed to work until further notice because some had not adhered to the administration’s interpretation of the Islamic dress code for women.
The letter said any NGO found not complying with the order would have their operating licence revoked in Afghanistan.
The order came days after the Taliban-run administration ordered universities to close to women, prompting strong global condemnation and sparking some protests and heavy criticism inside Afghanistan.
It was not immediately clear how the order would affect United Nations agencies, which have a large presence in Afghanistan delivering services amid the country’s humanitarian crisis.
When asked whether the rules included UN agencies, Habib said the letter applied to organisations under Afghanistan’s coordinating body for humanitarian organisations, known as ACBAR. That body does not include the UN but does include more than 180 local and international NGOs.
However, the UN often contracts with NGOs registered in Afghanistan to carry out its humanitarian work.
Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN deputy special representative for Afghanistan and humanitarian coordinator, expressed deep concern after receiving the letter.
“Participation of women in humanitarian action is a fundamental principle which cannot be breached,” he told Al Jazeera. “It is a principle of operational independence of humanitarian action. So, obviously, comprehensive humanitarian aid and assistance to population cannot be delivered in situation that operating principles are violated.”
Speaking to Reuters news agency, Alakbarov said contracted NGOs carried out most of the UN’s activities and that their work would be heavily impacted.
The potential endangerment of aid programmes that millions of Afghans access comes when more than half the population relies on humanitarian aid, according to aid agencies, and during the mountainous nation’s coldest season.