Prominent aid group’s women staff resume work in Afghanistan

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A leading international NGO’s Afghan women staff have resumed their work in some provinces, months after the Taliban government banned them from working.

Several aid groups suspended operations in protest of the order that was announced at the end of December, which later extended to include Afghan women working for the United Nations.

“I am glad to confirm that we have been able to resume most of our humanitarian operations in Kandahar as well as a number of other regions in Afghanistan,” Jan Egeland, Secretary General of the independent Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said Monday.

“All our work is for women & men, girls & boys alike, & with equal participation of our female & male humanitarian colleagues,” he said in a tweet.

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It comes after Egeland travelled to Kandahar — the Taliban government’s traditional stronghold — last month where he announced that officials had said they would consider a “temporary agreement” to allow women to return to work.

“This arrangement ensures the delivery of much needed assistance while the authorities finalize national guidelines to facilitate women’s participation in humanitarian efforts,” Christian Jepsen, a spokesperson for the NRC, said Tuesday.

The UN has previously also reported that the Taliban is working on guidelines that will provide more clarity.

The Taliban authorities have not commented.

Government officials claim the ban was imposed because women were not observing rules on wearing the hijab, an allegation denied by aid workers.

The Taliban government is not officially recognized by any country or world body, and only a handful of nations have a presence in Afghanistan.

UNAMA, the UN’s mission in Afghanistan, said in a statement last month that the ban “seriously undermines our work” and that lifting restrictions was essential.

“We must remain focused on our objective to support the people of Afghanistan. We cannot disengage despite the challenges,” the statement said.

Afghan women shout slogans during a rally to protest against what the protesters say is Taliban restrictions on women, in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 28, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)
Afghan women shout slogans during a rally to protest against what the protesters say is Taliban restrictions on women, in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 28, 2021. (File photo: Reuters)

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has warned that funding for aid operations “remains at worryingly low levels and the ban is exacerbating this trend.”

Since the ban, UNAMA has asked all its Afghan staff — men and women — to work from home, but other agencies in the country “have had different ways of handling the situation,” he noted.

Since ousting the foreign-backed government in 2021, Taliban authorities have imposed an austere version of sharia law that the UN has labelled “gender-based apartheid.”

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