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Three foreign NGOs suspend work after Taliban ban on women staff

Three foreign aid groups, including Save the Children, announced they were suspending their work in Afghanistan after the Taliban ordered all NGOs to stop their women staff from working.

“We cannot effectively reach children, women and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without our female staff,” Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and CARE said in a joint statement on Sunday.

“Whilst we gain clarity on this announcement, we are suspending our programmes, demanding that men and women can equally continue our lifesaving assistance in Afghanistan.”

Saturday’s order issued by the Taliban authorities drew swift international condemnation, with governments and organisations warning of the impact on humanitarian services in a country where millions rely on aid.

The announcement came as top officials from the United Nations and dozens of NGOs operating in Afghanistan met in Kabul to discuss a way ahead after the Taliban’s latest restriction delivered a blow to humanitarian work across the country.

UN officials, Afghanistan NGOs to meet over Taliban ban of women staff

Restricting women’s freedoms

The latest restriction comes less than a week after the Taliban banned women from attending universities, prompting global outrage and protests in some Afghan cities.

“I’m the only breadwinner of my family. If I lose my job my family of 15 members will die of hunger,” said Shabana, 24, a woman employee with an international NGO working in Afghanistan for decades.

The Ministry of Economy on Saturday threatened to suspend the operating licences of NGOs if they failed to implement the order.

The ministry said it had received “serious complaints” that women working in NGOs were not observing “the Islamic hijab and other rules and regulations pertaining to the work of females in national and international organisations”.

The ban comes at a time when millions across the country depend on humanitarian aid provided by international donors through a vast network of NGOs.

Dozens of organisations work across remote areas of Afghanistan and many of their employees are women, with several warning the ban would stymie their work.

“The ban is going to impact all aspects of humanitarian work as women employees have been key executors of various projects focussing on the country’s vulnerable women population,” said another top official of a foreign NGO in Kabul.

Since returning to power in August last year, the Taliban have barred teenage girls from secondary school, and on Tuesday, the minister of higher education banned women from universities, charging that they too were not properly dressed.

Several Taliban officials say the secondary education ban is only temporary, but they have also wheeled out a litany of excuses for the closure — from a lack of funds to time needed to remodel the syllabus along what they consider to be Islamic lines.

Women have also been pushed out of many government jobs, prevented from travelling without a male relative and ordered to cover up outside of the home, ideally with a burqa.

US, UN warn Taliban ban on female NGO staff could disrupt aid delivery

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