Non-governmental organizations have been “deceived” by the Taliban authorities, who prevent them from providing vital aid to millions of Afghans by prohibiting the country’s women from working with them, criticizes an official of a major NGO.
Afghanistan is in the grip of one of the worst humanitarian crises on the planet: more than half of its 38 million inhabitants are facing acute food insecurity and three million children are at risk of malnutrition.
A situation which should worsen after several NGOs have decided to suspend their activities because of the prohibition for Afghan women to work in these organizations, pronounced on December 24 by the Taliban government.
The Taliban had “promised through their representatives that there would be no ban on the education of women or working women”, recalled Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). , questioned Monday by AFP.
“It is clear that we have been deceived by the Taliban government. Clearly they are making our job impossible now,” he continued.
Visiting Kabul, the humanitarian official urged the government to reverse the ban and indicated that it refused to resume NRC activities without the women.
“I am here to tell the Taliban leaders and anyone who can influence them that we must be able to get back to work with women workers. Otherwise, lives will be lost,” he warned.
“We cannot work without our female colleagues and we will not work without them,” insisted the association leader, whose NGO employs some 500 Afghan women.
Despite their promises to be more flexible, the Taliban have returned to the ultra-rigorous interpretation of Islam which marked their first passage to power (1996-2001) and have multiplied the draconian measures against the women since their return to power in August 2021.
A few days before targeting the NGOs, the Taliban authorities had taken the decision to close the universities to female students. Both directives come from Supreme Leader Hibatullah Akhundzada.
The Taliban government, which has not been recognized by the international community, claims that these bans were decided because women did not respect the wearing of the hijab (in Afghanistan, the body must be fully covered as well as the face), allegations denied by humanitarians.
According to Mr. Egeland, several senior Taliban officials are opposed to these decrees and recognize that many of them had sent their daughters to schools run by NGOs before the end of the war with the Americans and the NATO forces.
“I hear that there is fierce debate within the Taliban […] There is an internal battle and the wrong group seems to have the upper hand now,” Egeland reported.
He called on Western countries to send diplomats back to Afghanistan to exert more pressure on the Taliban to respect human rights.
“We are alone. Where are the development partners? Where are the international financial institutions that supported the whole of society here?” he wondered.
In Afghan society, which is deeply conservative and patriarchal, it is not permitted for a woman to speak to a man who is not a close relative. Only a woman can therefore come into contact with an aid recipient of the same sex.
“We will not work only with men,” Mr. Egeland warned, responding to Taliban arguments that aid can always reach homes through male relatives.
If the ban is not lifted, all humanitarian work will be paralyzed, warns the head of the NRC: “Donors, in the end, will not have work to finance, and we will not be able to pay salaries, so it will be the end of our work”.
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