UN official, Taliban minister meet on Afghan women NGO ban

Humanitarian officials have warned that excluding women from NGO work will have catastrophic consequences for the population by depriving them of lifesaving assistance
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Representative Image AP

KABUL: The top UN official in Kabul met with a Taliban government minister in Afghanistan's capital on Monday, following a decision by the country's new rulers to bar women from working for non-governmental organisations, the UN mission said.

The ban has already prompted four major international aid agencies to suspend operations in Afghanistan, raising the possibility that millions of people will be left without food, education, health care and other critical services during the harsh winter months.

Humanitarian officials have warned that excluding women from NGO work will have catastrophic consequences for the population by depriving them of lifesaving assistance.

The measure — the latest in restrictions on women's rights and freedoms in Afghanistan — was announced on Saturday by Qari Din Mohammed Hanif, the Taliban economy minister. It was imposed allegedly because some female NGO employees in Afghanistan were not wearing the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, correctly.

Hanif at the time said that any organization found not complying with the order will have its license revoked.

The UN mission in Afghanistan said in a tweet that its acting head, Ramiz Alakbarov, met with Hanif on Monday and called for a reversal of the ban.

“Millions of Afghans need humanitarian assistance and removing barriers is vital,” the UN said, without providing more details about the meeting. The Economy Ministry spokesman, Abdul Rahman Habib, told The Associated Press the meeting was arranged after Hanif issued the NGO order.

The four aid agencies stopped their operations in Afghanistan, saying they could not effectively reach people in desperate need without their female workforce.

Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE have been providing essential services and support amid plummeting living conditions.

Islamic Relief said its female staff were vital in providing essential healthcare, food and supporting widows and orphans. It is temporarily suspending non-lifesaving activities in Afghanistan because of the ban, although its lifesaving health care will continue.

The Taliban takeover in mid-August 2021 as US and NATO forces were in the final weeks of their pullout after 20 years of war, sent Afghanistan's economy into a tailspin and transformed the country, driving millions into poverty and hunger. Foreign aid stopped almost overnight.

Sanctions on the Taliban rulers, including a halt on bank transfers and the freezing of billions in Afghanistan's foreign assets have already restricted access to global institutions. Funds from aid agencies helped prop up the country's aid-dependent economy before the Taliban takeover.

Qatar, which played a key role in facilitating the negotiations that led to the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan last year, expressed its concern Sunday about the NGO ban imposed “under the pretext” that some female employees did not adhere to the Islamic dress code set by the government for women.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation said the fundamental rights of Afghan women had been dealt yet ''another severe blow'' following the order. Its secretary-general, Hissein Brahim Taha, said the move reflected a “willful policy...apparently seeking to further impact Afghan women's rights”.

Earlier last week, Afghanistan's Taliban authorities stopped university education for women, sparking international outrage and demonstrations in Afghan cities.

Security in Kabul was intensified in recent days, with an increased number of checkpoints, armoured vehicles, Taliban special forces and armed officers on the streets.

The Taliban government's Interior Ministry and the Kabul police chief were not immediately available for comment on the tighter security.

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