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Afghanistan: Taliban tells NGOs to stop women from working

December 24, 2022

Taliban officials say the ban was imposed because some women were not keeping to the country's strict dress code. Earlier this week, the Taliban banned women from attending universities.

Women protest against a ban on university education for females in Afghanistan on December 20, 2022
Women's rights have been curtailed since the Taliban took over the country in August 2021Image: AP/dpa/picture alliance

The Taliban on Saturday ordered all nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to suspend their female employees in the latest curbs on women's rights in Afghanistan

The announcement came just days after the Islamist militant group banned women from studying at universities — a move that sparked protests and international outrage.

What is the latest Taliban ruling?

Economy Ministry spokesperson Abdulrahman Habib said female NGO employees were not allowed to work until further notice because some had not adhered to the Taliban's strict interpretation of the Islamic dress code for women.

"There have been serious complaints regarding the non-observance of the Islamic hijab and other rules and regulations pertaining to the work of females in national and international organizations," said a letter sent to all NGOs.

The letter warned that any NGO found not complying with the order would have its operating license revoked.

It was not immediately clear how the order would affect UN agencies, which have a large presence in Afghanistan, delivering services amid the country's humanitarian crisis.

Habib said the letter applied to groups listed under ACBAR, the country's coordinating body for humanitarian organizations.

That body does not include the United Nations. However, it includes over 180 local and international NGOs and the UN often contracts with NGOs registered in Afghanistan to carry out its humanitarian work.

NGOs reeling after ban

The Charge D'Affaires for Norway, which funds aid in Afghanistan and hosted talks between Taliban and civil society members in January, denounced the move.

"The ban on female employees in NGOs must be reversed immediately," Paul Klouman Bekken tweeted. "In addition to being a blow to women's rights, this move will exacerbate the humanitarian crisis and hurt the most vulnerable Afghans."

The UN's humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov, said that the UN and its partners sharply condemn the reported order and that the organization will seek to meet with Taliban officials.

"The UN will seek to meet with the Taliban leadership to obtain clarity on the reported order. Women must be enabled to play a critical role in all aspects of life, including the humanitarian response," Alakbarov said in a statement.

Aid workers say female workers are critical to ensuring women can access aid.

One unnamed NGO official told the AFP news agency that it was suspending all activities from Sunday. Top officials from NGOs operating in the country would hold a meet to decide how to respond to the order, according to the source.

"Everybody was saying after all of these recent edicts that none of this is in line with Islam," Afghan journalist Ali Latifi told DW. "This is completely [the Taliban's] own vision and not only goes against Afghan culture but, more importantly, against Islam," he added. "This is completely their own vision."

The United States said it was also "deeply concerned" over the Taliban's ban on women working in NGOs, saying it could "disrupt vital and life-saving assistance to millions."

"This decision could be devastating for the Afghan people," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter.

Latest Taliban edicts 'very heavy blows', will cause protest

Women's protest quashed with water cannon

The news of the ban came as dozens of Afghan girls and women, mainly students, took to the streets in western Herat on Saturday to protest the Taliban's earlier ban on women's education.

Protesters, divided into small groups, chanted: "Education's our right" and gathered in front of the provincial governor's office.

Security forces tried to disperse them, using water cannons, sticks and batons, according to reports.

Video footage showed the women hiding in a side street before resuming their protest with chants of "Disgraceful!"

Kabul residents reported a heavy Taliban presence in the city to suppress any possible protests in the capital.

Dozens of Afghan refugee students also protested in the Pakistani city of Quetta and demanded the immediate reopening of campuses for women in their homeland.

Women protest in Pakistan against the ban on women's education in Afghanistan
Protesters in Quetta, Pakistan, held up signs, including "Let her learn"Image: Abdul Ghani Kakar/DW

The Taliban justified the education ban on the grounds that female students were not observing dress codes, and were attending classes without male relatives and mixing with male students.

Despite initially promising a more moderate rule respecting rights for women and minorities, the Taliban have ended up implementing their interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, since they seized power in August 2021.

They have banned girls from middle school and high school and barred women from most fields of employment and ordered them to wear head-to-toe clothing in public. Women are also banned from parks and gyms.

rs, mm/dj (AFP, AP, dpa)