The United Nations has been forced to temporarily suspend several “times of crisis” aid programs in Afghanistan after the Taliban banned women from humanitarian work in the country.
Experts have warned that the move, which has been condemned by the international community, including the UK, will hamper the delivery of vital relief services and endanger the lives of millions of Afghans.
Several United Nations agencies and humanitarian groups said in a joint statement Wednesday that the “participation of women in aid delivery is non-negotiable and must continue.”
“Banning women from humanitarian work has immediate and life-threatening consequences for all Afghans. Some urgent programs have already had to stop temporarily due to a lack of female staff,” the statement read.
“We cannot ignore the operational constraints we now face as a humanitarian community…we anticipate that many activities will have to be halted as we cannot deliver principled humanitarian assistance without humanitarian workers.”
Samira Sayed Rahman, communications and advocacy coordinator for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Afghanistan, said women and girls were “disproportionately affected” by the return of the Taliban and their oppressive policies.
“Without humanitarian workers, we simply won’t be able to reach them,” she told The Telegraph. “If this ban continues, we will see more and more deaths…”
The Taliban ban has forced tens of thousands of female aid workers out of work, with the regime under intense pressure to reverse its decision.
Ministers from 12 countries, including British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, said the regime’s “reckless and dangerous order” had put at risk millions of Afghans who depend on humanitarian assistance for their survival.
Aid agencies have warned that, under the ban, they cannot provide vital services to women without female staff or doctors.
“It will have serious humanitarian implications,” said Miss Rahman. “Female humanitarian workers have access to populations that male employees cannot reach. So their participation in the delivery of aid is non-negotiable.”
The most vulnerable “cut off from aid”
The ongoing conflict in Afghanistan has long made it difficult for women to access maternal health care in the deeply patriarchal country, a problem that could be exacerbated by the current ban.
The violence has also produced a huge population of widows, while many men have abandoned their families and emigrated in search of economic opportunities, leaving the women alone to take care of their homes.
Following the Taliban’s return to power and the imposition of increasingly repressive policies, thousands of Afghan women and girls have been displaced, leaving them without money or food. By limiting access to aid, there are fears that these people may die of hunger.
“All of these are the most vulnerable communities and are essentially cut off from aid right now,” said Miss Rahman.
The ban also means that thousands of Afghan women will no longer have access to a fixed income, she added, “including our organization’s 3,000 female staff.”
The senior UN official in Kabul met with the Taliban to discuss the ban and its consequences for humanitarian aid.
It comes after the regime controversially suspended university education for women and secondary school for girls.
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