Afghanistan’s Taliban-run administration has ordered all local and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to ban working women from coming to work, according to a letter from the economy ministry.
In the letter, the content of which was confirmed by the spokesman of the Ministry of Economy, Abdulrahman Habib, it is stated that employees of non-governmental organizations are not allowed to work until further notice.
The move is said to be a result of some women allegedly not adhering to the administration’s interpretation of the Islamic dress code for women.
Aid workers said female staff were key to ensuring women had access to support.
Habib said the ban applies to organizations within the Afghan Coordination Body for Humanitarian Organizations, known as ACBAR.
Although ACBAR does not include the United Nations, it includes more than 180 local and international NGOs, and the UN often contracts such Afghan-registered groups to carry out its humanitarian work.
How the order will affect UN agencies, which have a large presence in Afghanistan and are providing services amid the country’s humanitarian crisis, is unclear.
It was also unclear whether the rule also applied to parties.
Dozens of organizations operate in remote areas of Afghanistan and many of their employees are women, and several warn that a ban on female staff would hinder their work.
The International Rescue Committee said in a statement that the more than 3,000 women employed in Afghanistan are “critical to the delivery of humanitarian aid” in the country.
An official at an international non-governmental organization dealing with food distribution said the ban was a “big blow”.
“We have female staff mainly to deal with the humanitarian aid issues of Afghan women,” the official said. “Now how do we address their concerns?”
US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said women were “central to humanitarian operations around the world” and that a ban would be “devastating” for Afghans as it would “disrupt vital and life-saving aid to millions”.
The European Union – the main funder of humanitarian organizations working in Afghanistan – condemned the decision and said it was assessing “the impact it will have on our aid on the ground”.
This latest attack on women’s rights and freedoms comes days after the administration ordered universities to lock up women.
The move drew international condemnation. This week G7 foreign ministers called on the Taliban to lift the ban, warning that “gender persecution could amount to a crime against humanity”.
However, Afghanistan’s minister of higher education defended the ban. Nida Mohammad Nadim said that this will prevent the mixing of men and women in universities and believes that some subjects taught violate the principles of Islam.
“We told the girls to have the proper hijab, but they didn’t and they were wearing dresses as if they were going to a wedding ceremony,” he said. “The girls studied agriculture and engineering, but this did not suit the Afghan culture. Girls should study, but not in fields that are against Islam and the honor of Afghanistan.”
He said that the universities will reopen for women once these issues, which are being worked on, are resolved.
However, this reflects Taliban promises of access to the girls’ high school, which was banned last year.
He insisted that girls’ classes resume once “technical issues” regarding uniforms and transport are resolved. However, the ban remains in effect.
The Taliban have also banned girls and all female staff, including primary school teachers, meaning there is now a total ban on education for women in the country.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report