Guess what? In a shocking move, the Office of the United Nations Assistance Mission (UNAMA) in Afghanistan ordered its employees in Afghanistan not to show up for up to 48 hours due to security threats after the Taliban’s ban on women working at its office in Nangarhar Province. However, the United Nations has also announced that it is entering talks with the Taliban in this regard.
- A spokesman for the UN Secretary-General said a delegation from the organisation will hold talks with Taliban officials in Kabul today to “seek some clarity”.
- In the latest diktat against women in Afghanistan, the Taliban have issued an order to ban Afghan women employees of the United Nations staff from working throughout Afghanistan. UNAMA had said that the Taliban have not allowed female employees of the organization to work in Nangarhar.
- Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, said that although they have not yet received a written document on the Taliban’s ban on women working in institutions related to the organization in Afghanistan, they have been informed through credible channels that the group has banned women from working with the United Nations.
- Dujarric stressed that women’s work with UN-related sectors is necessary to help 23 million people in need in Afghanistan and “any such ban would be unacceptable and frankly, inconceivable.”
- Two UN sources said 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. Friday and Saturday are normally weekend days at the UN offices in Afghanistan, meaning staff would not return until Sunday at the earliest.
- The UN political mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, is also headed by a woman, Roza Otunbayeva, a former president and foreign minister of the Kyrgyzstan. She was appointed by the secretary-general in coordination with the UN security council. Dujarric said there’s been no Taliban action regarding the UN’s senior leadership.
Why it matters? After the ban announcing an order for all foreign and domestic NGOs to stop women personnel working across the crisis-stricken nation last year, several NGOs suspended their entire operations in protest, piling further misery on Afghanistan’s 38 million citizens, half of whom are facing hunger. However, the UN had so far been exempt from the December Taliban decree.
- Days of discussions had led to an agreement that women working in the health aid sector would be exempt from the decree, and UN staff, including those in the aid sector, were never beholden to the ban.
- The UN employs around 400 Afghan women — the bulk of the some 600 female staff members working in Afghanistan, according to UN figures. There are about 3,300 Afghans in total in the 3,900-strong UN workforce in the country.
- “It’s very difficult to imagine how we deliver humanitarian aid without our female staff,” Dujarric said, noting that “obviously, given the society and the culture, you need women to deliver aid to women.”
- Aid officials have also flagged the risk that donor countries will reduce funding due to frustration over restrictions on women as other international crises take hold.
- The UN has made its single-largest country aid appeal ever, asking for $4.6 billion in 2023 to deliver assistance in Afghanistan. So far it is less than 5% funded.
Back story: Since surging back to power in August 2021 after the withdrawal of US and NATO troops, the Taliban government has imposed an austere interpretation of Islam.
- Authorities have barred teenage girls from secondary school, women have been pushed out of many government jobs, prevented from travelling without a male relative and ordered to cover up outside of the home, ideally with a burqa.
- Women have also been banned from universities and not allowed to enter parks or gardens.
Zoom out: Following this ongoing tussle, there have been several reactions. Former US State Department special representative for Afghanistan peace affairs Zalmay Khalilzad said that the Taliban has violated the Doha agreement. According to Khalilzad, the Taliban had committed to continuing women’s work in Afghanistan under the Doha agreement.
- He tweeted on Wednesday that the Taliban’s decision to ban women from working in UN-related institutions in Afghanistan will increase the suffering of the Afghan people. He stressed that the Taliban have made a mistake with the decision.
- UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has condemned the Taliban’s ban on women working in its office in Nangarhar Province. He said that if the move is not reversed, the UN’s capabilities to deliver humanitarian aid to those in need in Afghanistan will be undermined.
- Nasir Ahmad Faiq, acting permanent representative of Afghanistan to the United Nations, said the organization has closed its offices in response to the ban on women working in its offices in Afghanistan. He said that the Taliban want to pressurize the United Nations for humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, so they have banned all women from working in UN offices.
- UN special representative for human rights in Afghanistan Richard Bennett made an urgent call for the Taliban’s decision to be overturned.
- Fawzia Kofi, a member of parliament in the previous government, accused the UN of failing to take a “unified” stance on banning girls from studying and working for women. Reacting to the Taliban’s recent decision, Kofi tweeted: “I believe it will only be effective to pressurize the Taliban. When millions of women were banned from working and studying, the UN Security Council had to take a unified position. The international community further emboldened the Taliban. Now, female UN staff are also banned.”