UN says Taliban ban on female aid workers a potential deathblow

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The UN humanitarian chief warned Monday that the Taliban’s ban on female aid workers in Afghanistan is “a potential fatal blow” to many important humanitarian programs.

If the Taliban do not make exceptions to their edict, “it would be catastrophic,” Martin Griffiths told a press conference.

He said a delegation including international aid groups had argued that Afghan women were essential to humanitarian operations in meetings last week with nine Taliban officials, including Afghan foreign and economy ministers.

“We were asked to be patient,” Griffiths said. “We were told that guidelines are being developed by the Taliban authorities which would allegedly provide for the functioning of women in humanitarian operations.”

He said the consistent message from the Taliban “that there will be a place for working women” was “a slightly condescending message, but it is an important message”.

Griffiths noted that after the Taliban’s Dec. 24 edict banning aid groups from employing Afghan women, the Minister of Health granted an exception for women in health and the Minister of Health Education has granted an exception for those involved in primary education.

LOOK: Mark Frerichs on what his freedom means after being held hostage in Afghanistan for years

He said the humanitarian delegation had told the Taliban that if they were not going to rescind the edict “then we need to extend these exceptions to cover all aspects of humanitarian action”.

Griffiths, who is the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, would not speculate on what will happen.

“Let’s see if these directives pass. Let’s see if they are beneficial. Let’s see what room there is for the essential and central role of women in our humanitarian operations,” he said.

Despite initial promises, the Taliban has imposed increasing restrictions on girls and women since taking power in August 2021 in the final weeks of the withdrawal of US and NATO forces after 20 years. Their takeover plunged millions into poverty and hunger after foreign aid stopped almost overnight.

Omar Abdi, deputy executive director for programming at UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, who was part of the delegation, said 6 million Afghans face levels of food insecurity d emergency and are one step away from starvation. He said 875,000 children are expected to suffer from severe acute malnutrition this year, which is why “it is essential to continue these operations”.

Abdi cited some positive signs. He said that despite the Taliban banning girls from attending secondary school, about 200,000 girls continue to receive secondary education in about 12 provinces. He added that female secondary school teachers continue to receive their salaries from the Taliban authorities.

He said Taliban officials reaffirmed to the delegation “that they are not against girls’ learning in secondary schools, and again promised to reopen once the guidelines are approved by their leader”.

“In addition, over the past year, the number of community education classes held in private homes, public places has doubled from 10,000 to 20,000 classes,” he said. “These serve about 600,000 children, 55% of whom are girls.”

LOOK: Taliban further restricts women’s rights, forcing aid groups to halt work in Afghanistan

Abdi said these positive signs are the result of both the commitment of Taliban authorities and pressure from local communities to keep schools and community schools open.

“Without education,” he said, “there is certainly no hope for a better future for the girls and women of Afghanistan.”

Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro, secretary general of CARE International, said that “tying the hands of NGOs by preventing women from providing vital support to other women will cost lives”.

Janti Soeripto, president of Save the Children US, said women make up 30% of the 55,000 Afghan nationals working for NGOs and many of them are the sole breadwinners.

Without them, she said, aid cannot get to millions of women and children, and “if the ban is not lifted, the consequences for the Afghan people will be disastrous”.

So far, Griffiths said, women working for the UN and its agencies have not been banned and continue to work, but he insisted that Afghan women must also be allowed to contribute to the country’s economy.

“Afghanistan is going through a wild winter, the second under the Taliban,” he said. “Last winter, we managed to survive. I don’t know if we can do it indefinitely, not with all these bans.

He said 28 million Afghans needed help and the $4.6 billion needed in humanitarian aid for the country this year was the largest in the world.

“Every day that passes without adequate and functioning humanitarian assistance is not a good day for the Afghan people,” Griffiths said.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button