UN to meet Taliban officials regarding women staff ban

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The United Nations mission in Afghanistan will speak with Taliban representatives in Kabul on Wednesday “to seek clarity” regarding a new government decree that prohibits women from working for the international organization throughout the nation.

Afghan women have been subject to a number of restrictions since the Taliban took control in August 2021, including being barred from many government jobs and higher education.

The tightening restrictions are reminiscent of the Taliban’s initial administration, which ruled from 1996 to 2001 and was accused by the UN of repeatedly violating human rights, particularly those of girls and women.
The Taliban government reportedly extended its ban on women working for non-governmental organizations to the UN on Tuesday, according to the UN.
Dujarric stated that the UN would meet with the Taliban on Wednesday in Kabul to “seek some clarity,” but that no written order had yet been received.

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Dujarric stated that “any such ban would be unacceptable and frankly, inconceivable” for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

The latest in a troubling trend that is eroding aid organizations’ capacity to assist those in need, he continued.

He noted that the UN is trying to reach 23 million people in Afghanistan with humanitarian aid, saying that “female staff members are essential for the United Nations to deliver lifesaving assistance.”

The ban on UN women, according to a foreign aid worker, will have a significant effect.

According to Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the secretary-general, “UNAMA received word of an order by the de facto authorities that bans female national staff members of the United Nations from working,” and “from various conduits that this applies to the entire country.”

A December directive ordering all domestic and foreign NGOs to stop women from working throughout the crisis-ridden country had so far not applied to the UN.
“Women employees identify women beneficiaries, that’s how it works across agencies, and that work will be further affected with the extension of this ban to UN women staff,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The UN employs around 400 Afghan women — the bulk of some 600 female staff members working in Afghanistan, according to UN figures. There are about 3,300 Afghans in total in the 3,900-strong UN workforce in the country.

“It’s very difficult to imagine how we deliver humanitarian aid without our female staff,” Dujarric said, noting that “obviously, given the society and the culture, you need women to deliver aid to women”.After the ban was announced last year, several NGOs suspended their entire operations in protest, piling further misery on Afghanistan’s 38 million citizens, half of whom are facing hunger, according to aid agencies.

Days of discussions led to an agreement 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 beholden to the ban.

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

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

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

Since surging back to power, the Taliban government has imposed an austere interpretation of Islam.

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Authorities have barred teenage girls from secondary school, women have been pushed out of many government jobs, prevented from travelling without a male relative and ordered to cover up outside of the home, ideally with a burqa.

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

UN special rapporteur on human rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett said in a recent speech in Geneva that the Taliban authorities’ policy “may amount to the crime of gender persecution”.


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