Afghanistan aid at risk from Taliban ban on women NGO workers, UN warns

The lead humanitarian coordinator for the UN has said aid supplied by the organisations cannot continue if the Taliban doesn’t lift its ban preventing women working for humanitarian agencies in Afghanistan.

Martin Griffiths, the head of the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said he is willing to look at workarounds on the ban, but a possible developing standoff could lead to significant levels of aid being cut.

Mr Griffiths is set to visit Kabul soon to discuss the issues and has said he doesn’t want to pre-empt what will be decided.

Up to 150 NGOs have ceased all or part of their work in the country because of the ban, but reports suggest hundreds of children are already presenting to hospitals with pneumonia as the harsh winter continues.

While the UN itself is not currently subject to this ban on women working, but a lot of its aid programme is carried out by the NGOs.

Mr Griffiths told the BBC: “Without women working, we can’t deliver for the people who are in fact the primary objects of humanitarian assistance for women and girls. So it’s a practical matter. It’s beyond rights. It’s also practical”.

The ban on women working in NGOs came in late last year after the Taliban said there was evidence the wearing of the hijab was not being strictly enforced.

Mr Griffiths also hopes to disprove “unhelpful calumnies” that the Taliban is subverting UN aid by launching bogus aid agencies that siphon off aid for Taliban use.

He said money is “numbered and tagged and used for purposes for which it is given”. He said it is used by humanitarian agencies by the UN system but isn’t “somehow leaked onto the street”.

The deputy prime minister of Afghanistan Mawlavi Abdul Kabir has been sending out mixed signals about the ban.

He told the secretary general’s deputy special representative for Afghanistan, Markus Potzel, that learning religious and modern sciences is every person’s right in Afghanistan, including women.

The government is still working on details of how women can be educated, he added.

It’s expected the UN security council will discuss the NGO crisis at a closed-door meeting called by the United Arab Emirates and Japan on 13 January before Mr Griffiths visits Afghanistan.


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