A number of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Afghanistan have announced the suspension of their work in the country after the Taliban government ordered them to fire their female employees or face consequences.
Three such organizations – Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council, and CARE International – issued a joint statement on Sunday, December 25, announcing the suspension of their work in Afghanistan, claiming that the nature of their work in the country made it impossible for them to continue without women workers.
“We cannot effectively reach children, women and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without our female staff… We are suspending our programmes, demanding that men and women can equally continue our lifesaving assistance” in the country, the statement read.
Another NGO, International Rescue Committee (IRC), working in Afghanistan since 1988, also announced suspension of its activities on Sunday. It claimed that it heavily depends on female employees to deliver its services and cannot function without them. It said that out of its approximately 8,000 Afghan employees, 3,000 are women.
Afghanaid, another NGO, also suspended its work saying that it was “forced” to do so following the government’s decision to disallow women employees. It demanded the “immediate revocation” of the decision.
The Taliban government, in a notice sent to all NGOs working in the country on Saturday, December 24, imposed an indefinite ban on women working in local and international NGOs. This is days after the Taliban banned women from attending universities. In its order, Taliban’s Ministry of Economy cited female employees’ “failure” to observe the dress code issued by the government for its decision. It said that those NGOs who refuse to comply with the order would face action and have their licenses canceled.
Several other NGOs have issued statements raising concerns about the future of their work in Afghanistan. Various human rights groups have also issued condemnations of the decision. The UN called it a disturbing decision. Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson of UN General Secretary António Guterres, said that the decision will hamper humanitarian work in the country. “The effective delivery of humanitarian assistance requires full, safe and unhindered access for all aid workers, including women,” he said.
The UN humanitarian coordinator’s office issued a statement saying that the decision “would violate the most fundamental rights of women, as well as be a clear breach of humanitarian principle,” adding that it has sought a meeting with Afghan officials to seek further clarification on the matter.
Deeply concerned by reports that de facto authorities issued a circular barring all female employees of national&international organizations from going to work. Clear breach of humanitarian principles. Women critical role all aspects of life& humanitarian response is undeniable
— Dr. Ramiz Alakbarov (@RamizAlakbarov) December 24, 2022
According to the UN, over 90% of Afghanistan’s population of nearly 40 million lives in poverty, and around 28 million depend on humanitarian aid.
Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid called the criticisms “foreign interventions” in Afghanistan’s internal matters. He said that all institutions “wanting to operate in Afghanistan are obliged to comply with the rules and regulations of our country.”
The Taliban government issued a ban on women attending universities and higher educational institutions in the country last week on Tuesday, December 20. The decision has invited global condemnation and led to protests across the country, with male students also having been seen boycotting classes in solidarity with their female colleagues. The Taliban has not responded to the condemnations and protests so far.