The Taliban have issued an order to ban Afghan women employees of the United Nations staff from working throughout Afghanistan, according to a UN spokesman.
Stephane Dujarric said this was the latest in a “disturbing trend” undermining the ability of aid organisations to work in Afghanistan where some 23 million people, more than half the country’s population, need help.
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UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would view any ban on Afghan women working for the United Nations in their country as “unacceptable and, frankly, inconceivable”, he said.
Spokespeople for the Taliban administration and the Afghan information ministry did not immediately reply to requests for comment from the Reuters news agency.
Two UN sources told Reuters that concerns about the enforcement of the ban had prompted the United Nations to ask all staff not to come to the office for 48 hours.
“We’re still looking into how this development would affect our operations in the country and we are expecting to have more meetings with the de facto authorities tomorrow in Kabul. We’re trying to seek some clarity,” Dujarric said. “We do not have anything in writing as of now.”
The United Nations Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) earlier on Tuesday expressed concern that female staff in the eastern province of Nangarhar had been stopped from reporting to work.
“National UN staff [male and female] will not come to UN offices for 48 hours due to a threat of enforcement of a ban on female national staff in light of enforcement starting today in Jalalabad,” a senior UN official told Reuters, referring to Nangarhar’s capital.
Friday and Saturday are normally weekend days at the UN offices in Afghanistan, meaning staff would not return until Sunday at the earliest.
The Taliban administration, which seized power as US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, says it respects women’s rights in accordance with its interpretation of Islamic law.
Since toppling the Western-backed government in Kabul, the Taliban have tightened controls over women’s access to public life, including barring women from university and closing most girls’ high schools.
In December, Taliban authorities stopped most female NGO employees from working, which aid workers have said has made it more difficult to reach female beneficiaries and could lead donors to hold back funding.