Afghanistan: Taliban’s targeting of women and NGOs preventing delivery of life-saving assistance is unacceptable, say UN experts

Geneva, 30 December, 2022.-  UN experts* today denounced and called for an immediate reversal of the Taliban’s recent order barring women from working in international and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and supported a unified effort of the international community to take a stand against this latest human rights violation, further banishing women from the workplace, preventing delivery of life-saving aid and crippling the work of NGOs which will have a terrible impact on the entire country. Their statement is as follows:

Just four days after the Taliban banned women and girls from attending universities, on 24 December, the acting Minister of Economy issued a letter barring women from working in international and national NGOs, a further outrageous violation of women’s rights with the double blow of preventing the delivery of vital life-saving services and denying many women of their livelihood.

“The ban on women working in NGOs not only deprives women workers of their fundamental rights and livelihood, but also prevents them from supporting their communities. It will further push women out of job and completely erasing them from the public sphere,” said the experts. It will have a dire impact on local NGOs, particularly women-led NGOs, which have provided services and support for women, children and marginalized groups. Many national civil society organizations will be dealt a grievous blow by this cruel and unlawful decision.

The ban will have catastrophic effects on tens of millions of Afghan people in need of humanitarian assistance, especially women and children, as women aid workers play a critical role in needs assessment, planning and implementing the humanitarian response. It is a clear violation of the non-discriminatory practice that should guide all humanitarian aid. Without female humanitarian workers, women and girls as well as boys will not have access to food, education, child protection, gender-responsive legal aid, livelihoods support and essential healthcare services.

International and national NGOs are the main service-providers delivering a large proportion of international aid in Afghanistan and have expanded their operations since August 2021, including through the employment of more female staff, are also the target of this extremely harmful and discriminatory measure by the Taliban. Following the decision, some major humanitarian organisations have suspended or reduced their operations both because their services depend on their female workers and because, as a matter of human rights principle, they will not accept the gender composition of their staff being dictated to them and we agree.

The experts said, “We have been observing with deepening concern the volatile situation of humanitarian workers and their operations in the country. The de facto authorities have been routinely interfering in humanitarian operations by seeking requesting excessive information on humanitarian workers and beneficiaries and restricting their activities in ways that are contrary to humanitarian principles. The barring of women employees is the last straw, and a unified response is required. We express our full solidarity and support with those humanitarian agencies that have refused to work under this unconscionable prohibition that is seeking to push omen and girls in Afghanistan into oblivion. The UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee has noted that while agencies will endeavour to continue to deliver time critical lifesaving aid, many activities will be paused as they cannot deliver principled humanitarian assistance without female aid workers. We call on all organisations to continue to pay their female staff their full salaries and for donors to support this.

Having already denied women and girls their rights to education and limited their freedom of movement, expression, and dress as well as public participation, further denying women’s right to work in NGOs in the middle of winter when the country is grappling with a humanitarian emergency shows the Taliban have no regard for women’s rights or their wellbeing and will stop at nothing. In this case, they are instrumentalising and victimising women and the recipients of critical aid, apparently in a power struggle over control of this sector. This may well be a case of gender persecution, a crime against humanity, and those responsible should be held to account.

We call on the de facto authorities to immediately lift the ban on women working with national and international NGOs.

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