Taliban authorities direct female aid workers to stop work on refugee project

Taliban authorities direct female aid workers to stop work on refugee project

KABUL: The Taliban authorities in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, have instructed female aid workers to halt their work on a refugee project, further enforcing rules against women working, despite exemptions sought by certain organizations.
An official letter, exchanged between departments of the Ministry for Refugees in Kandahar, the historical heartland of the Taliban, highlighted that aid agencies were in violation of the orders regarding refugee-related work in Spin Boldak, a town near the Pakistan border.
According to an international news agency, the letter has been confirmed by a spokesperson for the provincial governor, in which the partner organizations working with the Department of Refugees and Repatriation of Spin Boldak were directed to request their female colleagues to refrain from attending work and stay at home until further notice.
The United Nations’ humanitarian coordination office acknowledged that it was aware of the instruction and seeking clarification. The letter underscores the uncertain operating environment for aid agencies in Afghanistan, as they aim to continue providing assistance during the humanitarian crisis while seeking exemptions to allow female staff to work, reach female beneficiaries, and uphold the principles of the UN charter.
In January, the Taliban administration indicated its intention to develop written guidelines that could permit aid groups to operate with female staff in certain cases. However, such guidelines have not yet been established. Referring to Haibatullah Akhundzada, the supreme spiritual leader based in Kandahar, the letter stated that female employees of organizations were prohibited from going to work until further notice, emphasizing that some partner organizations had violated this decree by asking their female employees to come to work.
The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an international NGO, announced in May that it had obtained exemptions for many of its operations in Kandahar and was resuming work with female staff. However, the NRC declined to comment on this recent letter.
The Taliban’s restrictions on women aid workers and their limited access to education have drawn widespread criticism from the international community. Diplomats have indicated that formal recognition of the Taliban’s government is unlikely until there is a reversal of these policies.
The Taliban, who assumed power after the withdrawal of U.S. troops supporting the elected government in 2021, claim to respect women’s rights in accordance with their interpretation of Islamic law and local customs.