As Afghanistan battles hunger and poverty, some of the United Nations’ senior women officials have met with Taliban leaders in Kabul to discuss banning women development workers.
In December, the Taliban ordered all local and international NGOs to prevent their female employees from coming to work or risk having their NGO licenses revoked. At least half a dozen major foreign aid organizations have temporarily suspended their operations in Afghanistan.
A UN statement said the visit comes at a time when more than 28 million people in Afghanistan are in need of humanitarian assistance. According to the United Nations, Afghanistan is struggling with the risk of famine, economic decline and deep-seated poverty.
UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed and UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous met with Taliban officials on Wednesday. They had previously met with groups of Afghan women in Ankara and Islamabad, and a group of envoys to Afghanistan based in Doha, to address the ban on female aid workers and “reaffirm the need to continue providing life-saving assistance.”
According to Portal news agency, during the talks in Kabul, Mohammed “emphasized the need to uphold human rights, especially for women and girls” and was “encouraged by exceptions” to the ban on women development workers, UN spokesman Farhan Haq said. These have led to some relief operations, for example in the health sector, being resumed.
At Mohammed’s meetings with officials in Turkey, Qatar and Pakistan, “a clear consensus was evident on the issue of women’s and girls’ right to work and access to education,” Portal quoted a statement released by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan as saying.
Bahous wrote a statement approving the move shortly after the Taliban issued the decree in December. “By preventing women from participating in aid efforts, the Taliban have effectively suspended half the population of Afghanistan from aid they depend on and will not survive without,” she wrote.
Following the announcement, the UN said it had suspended some of its “time-sensitive” programs in Afghanistan due to a lack of female auxiliaries.
Half of the Afghan population is suffering from acute hunger, and although the conflict has subsided, violence, fear and deprivation remain, according to a UN report in November.
US troops withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, marking the end of the American presence in the country, after which the Taliban came to power. Although Afghan security forces were well funded and well equipped, they put up little resistance when Taliban fighters took over much of the country.
The radical Islamist group initially wanted to distance itself from its earlier rule in the 1990s, presented itself as more moderate and committed to the internal peace process. But 17 months later, a series of decrees have steadily undermined the rights of women and girls in almost every area of life.