Afghanistan: UN stops some programs amid ban on female aid workers

The United Nations said on Wednesday that some “time-critical” programs in Afghanistan have temporarily stopped. The UN warned that many other activities will also likely need to be paused because of a ban by the Taliban-led administration on women aid workers.

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths, the heads of UN agencies and several aid groups said in a joint statement that women’s “participation in aid delivery is not negotiable and must continue,” calling on the authorities to reverse the decision.

“Banning women from humanitarian work has immediate life-threatening consequences for all Afghans. Already, some time-critical programs have had to stop temporarily due to lack of female staff,” read the statement.

“We cannot ignore the operational constraints now facing us as a humanitarian community,” it said. “We will endeavor to continue lifesaving, time-critical activities … But we foresee that many activities will need to be paused as we cannot deliver principled humanitarian assistance without female aid workers.”

Taliban ban on women aid workers was announced on Dec. 24 following the group’s ban on higher education for women.

“No country can afford to exclude half of its population from contributing to society,” said the statement, which was also signed by the heads of UNICEF, the World Food Program, the World Health Organization, the UN Development Program, and the UN high commissioners for refugees and human rights.

In another statement, foreign ministries of 12 countries as well as the United Nations and European Union envoys called on the Taliban to lift the ban on women employees at non-governmental organizations, saying the decision puts at risk millions of lives in Afghanistan.

The foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States and the High Representative of the European Union said they are gravely concerned that the Taliban’s “reckless and dangerous” order barring female employees of national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from the workplace puts at risk millions of Afghans who depend on humanitarian assistance for their survival.

Four major organizations that provided humanitarian aid to millions in Afghanistan said on Sunday that they were suspending operations because they were unable to run their programs without female staff.

The UN statement said the ban on female aid workers “comes at a time when more than 28 million people in Afghanistan require assistance to survive as the country grapples with the risk of famine conditions, economic decline, entrenched poverty and a brutal winter.”

The UN agencies and aid groups, including World Vision International, CARE International, Save the Children US, Mercy Corps and InterAction – pledged to “remain resolute in our commitment to deliver independent, principled, lifesaving assistance to all the women, men and children who need it.”