The United Nations said its envoy to Afghanistan had pressed the Taliban rulers Monday to reverse bans on work and education for women and girls to prevent further isolation of the crisis-ridden country.
Markus Potzel, the acting head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), conveyed the international community’s call in a meeting in Kabul with Taliban Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani.
“The ban on Afghan women aid workers will deepen the humanitarian crisis creating greater economic misery and further Afghanistan’s isolation,” UNAMA wrote on Twitter after the meeting.
Late last year, the men-only Taliban administration ordered national and foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to immediately suspend Afghan female staff for allegedly not wearing the Islamic hijab and breaching mandatory gender segregation at work.
The global community swiftly denounced the move, saying it would have “immediate life-threatening consequences” for all Afghans.
Haqqani’s office confirmed in a post-meeting statement that Potzel shared his concerns about the education of girls and the imposition of other restrictions.
The statement quoted the influential Taliban minister as telling the U.N. delegation “that efforts are being made to solve the problems,” and that “a reasonable and permanent solution is being worked on which is compatible with Sharia rules and the culture of our people.”
Haqqani maintained that the Taliban leadership “thinks for the well-being of the people and is committed to it.”
The restriction on women aid workers has prompted the U.N. to temporarily halt some “time-critical” programs, and several of the largest foreign NGOs have suspended their operations, saying they cannot reach the millions of children, women and men in need of assistance without female staff.
The Taliban already have rejected calls for reversing the NGO ban and other restrictions on women as meddling in Afghan domestic matters, saying Islamic law or Shariah-based governance mandates them.
“In line with a general Islamic Emirate edict seeking implementation of Shariah in the country, it is mandatory for women not to go to NGO offices, just like government institutions, which have been functioning without women for the past year-and-a-half,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA on Friday.
The U.N. estimates about 28 million people – more than half the population – including 14 million children, are in need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan. About 97% of Afghans are at risk of falling below the poverty line this year, with more than 1 million children younger than 5 acutely malnourished.
“The ban comes at a time when over 28 million people require aid to survive as the country grapples with risk of famine conditions, economic decline, entrenched poverty and a brutal winter,” warned the U.N. office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs in Afghanistan in a statement Monday.
The Taliban have imposed sweeping restrictions on women since taking over Afghanistan in August 2021. In the run-up to the December 20 ban on women NGO workers, the hardline rulers abruptly banned female students from accessing universities and other institutions of higher learning.
The move effectively imposed a complete ban on girls’ education in the country after the Taliban in March barred teenage girls from attending secondary schools.
The Taliban require women to wear hijabs when in public and avoid road trips beyond a certain distance without a male relative accompanying them. Women are not allowed to go to public places such as parks, gyms and public bath facilities.