The Taliban prohibits Afghan women from working for NGOs.

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ISLAMABAD – The Taliban has issued a new sweeping ban on women in public life, barring female Afghan staff from working in international organizations. The Economy Ministry announced the decision in a statement on Saturday, saying “all female employees working in their respective departments should stop work until further notice.”

The ministry warned that any international organization that does not comply with the new ban will have its work permit revoked.

The ministry said the decision was made following “serious complaints” that women working for non-governmental organizations did not follow conservative Islamic dress. Earlier this year, the Taliban ordered all Afghan women to wear head-to-toe covers in public.

The move comes as Afghanistan faces a severe humanitarian crisis, with near-universal poverty and more than two-thirds of Afghans expected to need humanitarian aid by 2023. International NGOs have played a crucial role in providing basic aid and keeping Afghanistan’s health system afloat, particularly after the Taliban took power last year. Afghan and foreign women have continued to work with these organizations since the Taliban took power, and are often uniquely positioned to provide assistance to women in the deeply conservative country.

Saturday’s announcement comes just days after the Taliban banned Afghan women from attending university, a decision that hurts thousands of women across the country and limits their role in the workplace at a time when Afghanistan is already struggling economically.

An Afghan woman who works for an international organization in Kabul said she burst into tears when she heard the news, calling it “shocking and disappointing”.

“This is like losing hope,” she said. “We don’t have the opportunity to work – I’m speechless.”

She said she received an email from the human resources department of her organization asking her to work from home until further notice. She said she feels “lucky” to still be able to work at all, for now — even if it means she’s forced to rely on cellphone internet and deal with the Afghan capital’s frequent blackouts. In the office she had a generator and WiFi.

The woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said she is the main breadwinner in her family – supporting her elderly parents and her husband, who has just finished school. She also covers the education expenses of one of her young nephews. “I can’t even imagine” losing that income, she said.

The United Nations said on Saturday it was “deeply concerned” by the order and would seek clarity from Taliban officials. “Any such order would violate women’s most basic rights, as well as be a clear violation of humanitarian principles,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a statement.

“The UN in Afghanistan and its partners condemn the reported order and remind the de facto authorities that taking away women’s free will to choose their own destiny, disempowering them and systematically excluding them from all aspects of public and political life, takes the country backwards. jeopardizing efforts for any meaningful peace or stability in the country, the statement said.

Ramiz Alakbarov, the UN Secretary-General’s Assistant Special Representative for Afghanistan, called the order a “clear violation of humanitarian principles” in a chirping.

Amnesty International called the new order “another deplorable attempt to erase women from the political, social and economic space” in a tweet.

CARE International, which has worked in Afghanistan since 1961, suspended its operations on Saturday “until there is further clarity on the decision and its impact,” according to Melissa Cornet, the organization’s humanitarian adviser for Afghanistan. Representatives from the UN and international NGOs will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to plan a coordinated response, she said.

“This decision will prevent female aid workers from reaching women and girls in need” and from providing “life-saving aid to a population already facing life-threatening levels of hunger,” Cornet said.

The announcement did not specify whether the ban applies to foreign women working for NGOs, but previous restrictions have only applied to Afghan women.

Parker reported from Washington.

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