Taliban orders all NGOs to stop employing women over alleged hijab violations

KABUL, Afghanistan (AFP) – Afghan Taliban authorities have ordered all national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to stop employing female workers after “serious complaints” about the dress code, the Economy Ministry said Saturday.

The order, which drew swift international condemnation, threatened to suspend the operating licenses of non-governmental organizations that failed to implement the directive.

The latest cut comes less than a week after Taliban authorities banned women from attending universities, sparking global outrage and protests in some Afghan cities.

Although the Taliban promised a softer rule when they returned to power in August last year, they have imposed severe restrictions on women – keeping them out of public life.

“There have been serious complaints of non-compliance with the Islamic hijab and other rules and regulations pertaining to women’s work in national and international organizations,” said a notice sent to all NGOs, a copy of which was obtained by AFP and AFP. The spokesperson of the Ministry of Economy confirmed it.

“The Ministry of Economy… orders all institutions to stop working for women until further notice,” the notification said, warning that if a group ignores the order, its license will be “revoked”.

Afghan female university students stand near a university in Kabul after being stopped by Taliban security personnel on December 21, 2022. (Wakil KOHSAR/AFP)

It was not yet clear how the directive affected foreign female NGO workers.

Two international non-governmental groups confirmed that they had been notified.

“We are suspending all our activities from Sunday,” a senior official at an international humanitarian NGO told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“Soon we will hold a meeting of senior officials of all NGOs to decide how to handle this issue.”

Dozens of national and international NGOs continue to work in remote areas of Afghanistan in various sectors, many of whose staff are women.

A female NGO worker in Afghanistan was distraught after the ban.

“What will these women do who have no men to support their families and are working in NGOs like this?” he said, asking AFP not to reveal his name. “Only that salary has prevented us from falling into poverty.”

Afghan women walk past a Taliban fighter in Kabul, Afghanistan, on February 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

‘Deplorable’ order

Another official working for an international NGO involved in food distribution said the ban was a “big blow” to female workers.

“We have a largely female workforce to deal with humanitarian aid for women in Afghanistan,” the official said. “How do we address their concerns now?”

The order was a “clear violation of humanitarian principles,” said the UN chief’s special representative in Afghanistan, Ramiz Alakbarov.

Rights group Amnesty International tweeted that the ban was an “unfortunate attempt to eliminate women from political, social and economic spaces” in Afghanistan.

The International Rescue Committee said in a statement that more than 3,000 women workers in Afghanistan were “critical to the delivery of humanitarian assistance” in the country.

The European Union – the main funder of aid organizations working in Afghanistan, although it does not recognize the Taliban as the country’s official government – condemned the decision and said it was assessing “the impact it will have on our aid on the ground”.

“Our main concern will remain the well-being, rights and freedoms of the Afghan people,” EU foreign policy chief Nabila Massrali’s spokesman Josep Borrell told AFP in a statement.

Afghan women walk through the old market as a Taliban fighter stands guard in downtown Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Mounting restrictions

The order is the latest attack on women’s rights in the country.

On Tuesday, authorities banned all women from attending universities, drawing condemnation from the US, the United Nations and several Muslim nations.

The Group of Seven industrialized democracies said the ban could be a “crime against humanity”.

This ban was announced less than three months after thousands of women took part in university entrance exams.

In response to the order, about 400 students boycotted an exam on Saturday in the southern city of Kandahar — the Taliban’s de facto center of power — in a rare all-male protest.

The students’ flight was dispersed by the Taliban who fired into the air, a professor at Mirwais Neeka University, where the protest took place, told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The Taliban have already banned teenage girls from secondary education, pushed women out of many government jobs, prevented them from traveling without a male relative and ordered them to cover up outside the home, preferably with a burqa.

Furthermore, they cannot enter parks or gardens.

The Taliban have also resumed public floggings of men and women in recent weeks, spreading the word that they are applying an extreme interpretation of Islamic law.

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