Afghanistan’s Taliban administration declared that its policy banning Afghan women from working in the United Nations (UN) is an “internal issue.”
The Taliban response comes after the UN expressed alarm at the current Afghanistan policy of banning female Afghan staff from working with the international agency. The UN said earlier in a statement that the international body is initiating a review of its operations within the country until May 5 due to concerns about breaching its charter. The Taliban replied that all sides need to “respect this policy” despite the humanitarian consequences caused by such restrictions on Afghan women’s ban to work in the UN.
According to a CNN report, the decree forced the international organization “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.” The report quoted the UN, stating that the ban on Afghan women was “the latest in a series of discriminatory measures implemented by the Taliban de facto authorities to severely restrict women and girls’ participation in most public and daily life in Afghanistan.”
UN’s statement added that it will continue to “assess the scope, parameters, and consequences of the ban, and pause activities where impeded,” adding that the “matter will be under constant review.”
An Appalling Choice
The United Nations has been put in a difficult position by the Taliban’s ban on female Afghan aid workers. This decision is an extension of their previous directive last December that prohibited women from working for non-governmental organizations, both national and international. As such, all UN personnel – male or female – have had to stay away from its offices based in Afghanistan, with only limited exceptions made when deemed critical.
Last week, men employed by the UN stood alongside their female colleagues by staying at home instead of going onsite. Kabul-based male staff members showed solidarity against this move taken by the Taliban government by taking part in an impromptu day off last week. Such developments remain deeply concerning as these impede the crucial efforts done daily by these dedicated professionals who serve those Afghans most vulnerable to poverty or displacement during this challenging time ahead.
UN stood firm on its stance – that any such policy would breach its charter and, in turn, adversely affect humanitarian efforts within Afghanistan. As a result, all staff has been asked to work at home instead of onsite until May 5 while consultations and reviews are conducted about their Afghanistan operations moving forward.
The Taliban Wants “Respect By All Sides”
On Wednesday, Taliban chief spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid said the policy “should be respected by all sides,” marking the first time the Taliban has commented on its proclamation decree since the UN acknowledged hearing of the new restrictions last week. Apart from brushing off the UN’s expressed alarm regarding a breach of its charter, Mujahid pointed to foreign governments as the cause of a worsening humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, with sanctions against its banking sector and freezing of assets held overseas.
Mujahid held these governments accountable for their dire circumstances, jeopardizing Afghanistan’s immense aid program and threatening vital support to women across the embattled nation. According to Mujahid, Afghanistan’s finance and banking sectors are on the brink of crisis due to these stringent sanctions experienced by their government.
Foreign restrictions have frozen Afghan central bank assets held overseas and placed them in Swiss trust funds. As for donor support, diplomats and Afghanistan aid officials express concern that this support may withdraw from the country’s already comprehensive aid program.
Donor withdrawal, observers say, would be particularly detrimental for female workers across the conservative nation who are essential for implementing programs throughout the region.
A Worsening Situation In Afghanistan
In December 2022, Taliban authorities declared that most female NGO workers in Afghanistan would be prohibited from working. This restriction on essential aid has pushed UN humanitarian efforts to an alarming brink, with a huge funding plan for 2023 only being 5% funded. If additional resources are not secured quickly and efficiently, millions within the nation will face severe famine-related illnesses and fatalities as early as this year.
For his part, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennet covered developments on human rights in Afghanistan from July to December 2022.
In his submitted February 2023 report to the UN, Bennet narrated gross human rights violations in Afghan women’s situation.
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“The systematic violation of the human rights of women and girls has deepened even further, and fundamental freedoms, including the rights of peaceful assembly and association, expression and the rights to life and protection against ill-treatment have increasingly been flouted. The authorities have instituted hudud ( death penalty, stoning and lashing for adultery and fornication, theft, drinking alcohol, slander, and defamation, among others) and qisas (retribution in kind), punishments, measures indicative of a revival of the policies of the 1990s.”
Benett also expressed deep concern, saying that “increasingly, the Taliban is ruling Afghanistan through fear and repressive policies aimed at suppressing communities, particularly women. Inclusiveness is negligible; there is little tolerance for difference and none for dissent.”
An Unparalleled Violation Of Human Rights
In a CNN report, several restrictions against female UN personnel were already in place since 2021, when the militant group seized power in Afghanistan.
Reacting to this unprecedented violation of human rights, Ramiz Alakbarov – UN Deputy Special Representative, and Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for Afghanistan, emphasized that “the lives of women (in the country) are at stake,” Alakbarov expressed dismay at the recent decision of the Taliban, calling it an “unparalleled violation of human rights.” He added that “it is not possible to reach women without women.”
Roza Otunbayeva, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, is engaging with Taliban officials to “seek an immediate reversal of the order,” assuring safety protocols during operations if accepted.
“In the history of the United Nations, no other regime has 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.”
Condemnation was widespread after the Taliban banned female aid workers in December, leading to at least six major foreign organizations suspending their operations and depriving Afghanistan of scarce resources. This takeover has further deepened an existing humanitarian crisis, with US allies freezing roughly $7 billion in Afghan reserves while cutting off international funding. Consequently, this will severely impact a nation that relies heavily on outside help for survival.
UN High Commissioner reports the move for Human Rights Volker Turk as “utterly despicable.”
“This is the latest in a series of steps taken that have eroded the rights and freedom of Afghan women and girls – including a ban on girls attending school above the sixth grade, ban on university education for women and girls, restrictions on women’s freedom of movement in public spaces, orders regarding women’s clothing, banning women from working in the administration and commercial enterprises, and banning their employment in NGOs.”
“It also comes at a time when 28.3 million people in Afghanistan are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Instead of working together to support the most vulnerable, such measures could drive the people of Afghanistan into further despair.”
Turk further slammed the Taliban decree against Afghan women, saying it is a “systematic, relentless assault on the people of Afghanistan as a whole by the Taliban de facto authorities, which appear to be actively working to incapacitate, intimidate and harass half of the population.”
“The Taliban leadership must rethink these deplorable policies against women for the sake of the people of Afghanistan and for the future of the country,” the UN Commissioner stressed.
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