In a major setback to relief efforts in the war-ravaged country, the United Nations says it is being forced to make an “appalling choice” about whether to continue operations in Afghanistan while the Taliban government bans women from working for the organisation.
Taliban authorities have imposed restrictions on Afghan women since seizing power in 2021, including banning them from higher education and many government jobs. In December, they banned Afghan women from working for domestic and foreign non-governmental organisations, and on April 4 extended that to UN offices across the country.
In a statement, the UN mission in Afghanistan said the ban was “unlawful under international law, including the UN Charter, and for that reason, the United Nations cannot comply”.
“Through this ban, the Taliban de facto authorities seek to force the United Nations into having to make an appalling choice between staying and delivering in support of the Afghan people and standing by the norms and principles we are duty-bound to uphold,” it said.
The Help Fight Famine Alliance - a consortium of Australian international aid and humanitarian groups and agencies working to help address rising global food insecurity - is calling on the Australian Government to push for the inclusion of women in aid delivery and to actively involve Afghan women in any solution to the hunger crisis.
Afghanistan is facing its worst economic and food crisis on record. An estimated 28.3 million people – two-thirds of Afghanistan’s population – will need urgent humanitarian assistance this year in order to survive. The Taliban edict prohibiting women from working at national and international nongovernmental groups has severely impacted the roll out of aid leading to an increased risk of poverty. Women and girls are also particularly vulnerable in health and education outcomes following the Taliban’s crackdown on women's rights.
ActionAid Executive Director Michelle Higelin said: “Just because Afghanistan doesn’t make the news anymore doesn’t mean there isn’t an unfolding humanitarian crisis. In fact, it’s getting even worse, particularly for women and girls who are experiencing the brunt of the hunger crisis. The Australian Government must step up its support for Afghanistan as the country faces a very real risk of famine."
' At this dark hour we must not forget them'
UN Women has condemned the Taliban’s latest discriminatory decision to ban Afghan women from working with the UN in Afghanistan.
“UN Women joins the UN Secretary-General in calling on the defacto authorities to immediately revoke this latest decision and reverse all measures that restrict women’s and girls’ rights to work, education and freedom of movement. We continue to call for the lifting of all discriminatory restrictions placed on women and girls by the Taliban since August 2021,” said Sima Bahous, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women.
“The UN has committed to leave no one behind. UN Women is determined to continue in every way possible to deliver vital services and support, so no woman or girl will be left out or left behind.
“The people of Afghanistan need more aid, not less. I saw and heard this firsthand from Afghan women on my recent visit there. At this dark hour, we must not forget them. The removal of skilled women aid workers decreases women and girls’ access to critical life-saving services, and it increases their risks when they have to seek assistance from men instead.
“The de facto authorities’ denial of women’s and girls’ rights to education and to engagement in society and the economy of Afghanistan is a self-inflicted wound on the country. This damage to future recovery and resilience deepens with every woman and girl whose horizons have been forcibly shrunk to her home’s four walls.”
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