Major aid groups suspend work in Afghanistan AS Taliban ban women

KABUL, Afghanistan — Four major international aid groups on Sunday suspended their operations in Afghanistan after a decision of the country Taliban rulers to ban women from working in non-governmental organizations.

Save the Children, the International Rescue Committee, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE said they cannot effectively reach children, women and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without women in their workforce. The NGO ban was introduced a day earlier, allegedly because women were not wearing the Islamic headscarf correctly.

The four NGOs provide healthcare, education, child protection and nutrition and support services amid plummeting humanitarian conditions.

“We have complied with all the cultural norms and we simply cannot work without our dedicated female staff, who are essential for us to be able to access women who desperately need assistance,” said Neil Turner, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council for Afghanistan. The Associated Press on Sunday. He said the group has 468 women on staff in the country.

Excluding women from schools and NGO work in Afghanistan “can and will have catastrophic humanitarian consequences in the short and long term,” the International Committee of the Red Cross has warned. (Photo by Naveed Tanveer/AFP)NAVEED TANVEER / AFP – Getty Images

The Taliban seizure of power in August 2021 sent Afghanistan’s economy into a tailspin and transformed the country, driving millions into poverty and hunger. Foreign aid stopped almost overnight. Sanctions on Taliban rulers, halting bank transfers and freezing billions in Afghanistan’s foreign exchange reserves have already restricted access to global institutions and the foreign money that supported the country’s aid-dependent economy. before the withdrawal of US and NATO forces.

In a statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that excluding women from schools and NGO work in Afghanistan “can and will have catastrophic humanitarian consequences in the short and long term.” The The Taliban also prohibited female students from attending universities. across the country this week.

Last month, in an interview with the AP, a senior Red Cross official, Martin Schuepp, said more Afghans will struggle to survive as living conditions deteriorate in the coming year. Half of Afghanistan’s population, or 24 million people, are in need of humanitarian aid, according to the group.

Senior US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Afghanistan Chargé d’Affaires Karen Decker, condemned the move.

Decker, tweeting in Dari on Sunday, said: “As a representative of the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, I feel entitled to an explanation of how the Taliban intend to prevent women and children from starving, when the women are no longer allowed to distribute assistance to other women and children.”

His comments prompted a response from the Taliban-led government’s top spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, who said all institutions wishing to operate in the country are required to abide by its rules and regulations.

“We do not allow anyone to talk nonsense or make threats regarding our leaders’ decisions under the heading of humanitarian aid,” he said in a tweet.

The International Rescue Committee said it was shocked by the Taliban’s decision, adding that more than 3,000 of its personnel in Afghanistan are women. “If we are not allowed to employ women, we cannot deliver to those in need,” the group said in a statement announcing that it would suspend work in the country.

The NGO’s order came in a letter on Saturday from Economy Minister Qari Din Mohammed Hanif. He said that any organization that does not comply with the order will have its license revoked in Afghanistan.

The flurry of rulings from the all-male, religiously oriented Taliban government recalls their rule in the late 1990s, when they barred women from education and public spaces and banned music, television and many sports.

The economy ministry order comes days after the Taliban banned female students from attending universities across the country, sparking a backlash abroad and demonstrations in major Afghan cities.

Around midnight on Saturday in the western city of Herat, where earlier protesters were dispersed with water cannons, people opened their windows and chanted “Allahu Akbar (God is great)” in solidarity with the female students.

In the southern city of Kandahar, also on Saturday, hundreds of male students boycotted their final semester exams at Mirwais Neeka University. One of them told The Associated Press that Taliban forces tried to disperse the crowd as they left the exam room.

“They tried to disperse us, so we chanted slogans, then others joined the chants,” said Akhbari, who gave only his last name. “We refused to move and the Taliban thought we were protesting. The Taliban began firing their rifles into the air. I saw two guys being hit, one of them in the head.”

A spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, Ataullah Zaid, denied that there was a protest. There were some people posing as students and teachers, he said, but they were stopped by students and security forces.

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