UN says Afghan women staff blocked from work by Taliban order

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The Taliban has banned women working for NGOs from the United Nations mission across the country, a United Nations spokesman announced on Tuesday, calling such an order “unacceptable “.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) had said earlier in the day that female UN employees had been prevented from working in eastern Nangarhar province.

“UNAMA received an order from the de facto authorities that prevents female United Nations national staff members from working,” a spokesman for the secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters, adding that The UN “heard from various channels that this concerns the whole country.”

The United Nations has so far been immune from a Taliban order in December for all foreign and domestic NGOs to stop female personnel working across the crisis-hit nation.

Dujarric said no written order had been received yet, but the United Nations was to hold meetings with the Taliban on Wednesday in Kabul to “seek clarity.”

Regarding the chief executive of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, Dujarric said, “any such ban would be unacceptable and unsurprisingly, unimaginable.”

“This is the latest in a disturbing trend that undermines the ability of aid organizations to reach those most in need,” he said.

After the ban announced last year, some NGOs suspended their entire operations in protest, heaping more misery on Afghanistan’s 38 million citizens, half of whom face starvation according to aid agencies.

After days of discussion, it was agreed that women working in the health aid sector would be exempt from the decree, and UN staff, including those in the aid sector, were never aware of the ban.

Last month, however, the chief executive of UNAMA, Roza Otunbayeva, told the UN Security Council that she feared the Taliban government could extend the ban imposed on women working for NGOs to women UN staff.

The agency earlier on Tuesday expressed “serious concern that the UN female national team has been prevented from reporting to work in Nangarhar province,” in a tweet.

“We remind de facto authorities that UN entities cannot operate and provide rescue assistance without female staff,” he said.

Taliban government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP earlier on Tuesday that he was seeking information on the matter in Nangarhar.

Since returning to power in August 2021 following the withdrawal of US and NATO troops, the Taliban government has enforced a strict interpretation of Islam.

Authorities banned teenage girls from secondary school, pushed women out of many government jobs, prohibited them from traveling without a male relative and ordered them to cover up outside the home, ideally with a burqa.

Women are also banned from universities and are not allowed to enter parks or gardens.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett said in a recent speech in Geneva that the policy of the Taliban authorities “could be a crime of gender persecution”.

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