Afghanistan: UN says ban on women employees unlawful, cannot be accepted

The United Nations in a press statement on Wednesday condemned “in the strongest terms a decision by the Taliban authorities to prohibit Afghan women from working for the UN in Afghanistan.”

UN said the decision extends the directive previously announced in December 2022, banning women from working for national and international non-governmental organizations in Afghanistan.

UN says it has been notified by Taliban authorities that, with immediate effect, no Afghan woman is permitted to work for the UN in Afghanistan, and that this measure will be actively enforced.

Several UN national female personnel have already experienced restrictions on their movements, including harassment, intimidation, and detention, the statement said. The UN has therefore instructed all national staff – men and women – not to report to the office until further notice, it added.

“It constitutes an unparalleled violation of women’s rights, a flagrant breach of humanitarian principles, and a breach of international rules on the privileges and immunities of the United Nations, including those extended to all UN personnel,” UN reiterated.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Roza Otunbayeva, is engaging Taliban authorities at the highest level possible to convey the Organization’s protest and to seek an immediate reversal of the order, UN said, adding that it is also engaging with member states, the donor community, and humanitarian partners.

The order will further impact the international community’s engagement with Afghanistan, and the UN’s ability to support the population as they experience an unprecedented humanitarian crisis, the statement said.

Two-thirds of the Afghan population – some 28.3 million people – require life-saving assistance to survive, including 20 million people who are food insecure, six million of whom are one step away from famine, according to UN. The order will also further negatively affect humanitarian partners’ ability to reach those most vulnerable, especially women and girls.

“In the history of the United Nations, no other regime has ever tried to ban women from working for the Organization just because they are women. This decision represents an assault against women, the fundamental principles of the UN, and on international law,” said Roza Otunbayeva.

Over the past 20 months, Taliban authorities have issued a series of increasingly restrictive measures targeting women and girls which have sought to limit their participation in all aspects of social, economic, and political life.

“This is yet another cruel and devastating blow against the women of Afghanistan, and one which carries grave consequences for all Afghans. The country is at further risk of even greater economic misery and isolation from the community of nations,” the UN special envoy for Afghanistan said.

Both Afghan women and men are essential to all aspects of United Nations work in Afghanistan, the UN said, adding that it is committed to doing everything possible to support its female Afghan workers during this difficult time. The ban imposes further psychological and emotional harm on Afghan women who have already endured so much.

“Female Afghan staff members are officials of the United Nations, whose privileges and immunities are enshrined in international law,” the UN said. “They must be allowed to move freely throughout Afghanistan to independently exercise their functions without any hindrance.”

Efforts to ban women from working for the UN are contrary to the fundamental principles of the UN, the organization said.

It added that Taliban authorities are reminded of the obligation of Afghanistan to adhere in good faith to the Charter of the United Nations.

Afghanistan freely accepted these obligations when it became a Member State in 1946.

Pursuant to Article 8 of the Charter of the United Nations, it is simply not possible for the UN to comply with the ban.

UN said Taliban authorities’ action concerning UN female staff is part of a series of extreme measures they have taken to exclude women and girls from virtually all aspects of public life and confine them to their homes. This is a systematic effort to reshape society leaving men as the only actors. The UN continues to call for the lifting of all discriminatory restrictions placed on women and girls by the Taliban since August 2021, UN added.

UN stated that the ban amounts to deliberate discrimination, violating the principle of equality between women and men in the exercise of their rights and respect for human dignity, as protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Afghanistan freely accepted the obligations in the two Covenants in January 1983.

It concluded that the ban is also counter to the clear duty to eliminate discriminatory measures under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which, as recalled by Security Council Resolution 2626, continues to bind Afghanistan as a state party.