KABUL | Several foreign organizations suspended their activities in Afghanistan on Sunday after NGOs were banned from working with women, with a senior UN official warning that it will be "very difficult" to continue humanitarian aid "if the Taliban maintain their position ".
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In a joint statement, Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE International announced the suspension of their activities until the ban announcement made on Saturday by the Taliban is “clarified”.
"We are suspending our programs, demanding that men and women can continue our aid to save lives in Afghanistan in the same way", explained the three associations at the end of a meeting bringing together senior UN officials. and dozens of NGOs.
Another NGO, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), present in Afghanistan since 1988, also announced to “suspend” its activities in the country, stressing that of its 8,000 employees, 3,000 are women. “If we are not allowed to employ women, we are unable to provide services to those in need,” the IRC said in a statement.
Afghanistan's economy ministry on Saturday ordered all non-governmental organizations to stop working with women or risk having their operating license suspended.
It was unclear whether the directive applied to foreign female NGO staff.
In the letter sent to local and international NGOs, the ministry explains that it took this decision after receiving “serious complaints” that the women working there did not respect the wearing of the “Islamic hijab”.
In Afghanistan, women are forced to cover their faces and their entire bodies.
“If they (the Taliban authorities) are not able to reverse this decision and find a solution to this problem, it will be very difficult to continue and provide humanitarian assistance in an independent and equitable way, because the participation of the women is very important," UN humanitarian coordinator for Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov told AFP.
"We don't want to immediately suspend aid, because that would harm the Afghan people," he continued, citing a "devastating" impact on the country's already dilapidated economy.
According to the United Nations and aid agencies, more than half of the country's 38 million people need humanitarian assistance during the harsh winter.
Dozens of organizations work in remote areas of Afghanistan and many of their employees are women.
"The ban is going to impact all aspects of humanitarian work, as female employees hold key positions in projects targeting the country's vulnerable female population," a senior official from a humanitarian agency told AFP on Sunday. foreign NGO.
"Hell for Women"
From Berlin, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called on Sunday for “a clear reaction from the international community,” adding that “we will not accept the Taliban making humanitarian aid an issue of their contempt for women. ””.
The Taliban's announcement was also condemned on Sunday by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC, 57 member states), whose Secretary General Hissein Brahim Taha "strongly called" on the regime to reconsider its decision, deemed "contrary to the interests of the Afghan people".
“There are 15 of us in my family and I am the only breadwinner, if I lose my job my family will starve,” said Shabana, 24, an NGO worker in Kabul.
“As you celebrate the arrival of the new year, Afghanistan has become hell for women,” she added.
Not wishing to give her name for fear of reprisals from the Taliban, another 27-year-old Afghan woman, who was to start working on Sunday in an international NGO, saw her "dreams fly away".
"The hard work that I have done in recent years in the field of education has been shattered," she lamented. “But we are brave enough not to accept the bans, and to fight for our rights. It may take time, but if we believe in ourselves, we will come back stronger than ever.”
The noose around women has tightened in recent months. The Taliban, who returned to power in August 2021, banned them less than a week ago from attending public and private universities, for the same reasons of not respecting the dress code. They had already excluded them from secondary schools.
They are further barred from many public jobs, cannot travel without being accompanied by a male relative and have been ordered to cover themselves outside the home, ideally with a burqa.
They are also not allowed to enter the parks.