UN flags Taliban order to bar women workers, tells Afghan staff to stay home
United Nations/KABUL, April 4 (Reuters) – The United Nations has “received word of an order” from Taliban authorities barring Afghan women from working for the world body in Afghanistan, a U.N. spokesman told reporters in New York on Tuesday. , Stephane Dujarric.
Dujarric said it was the latest in a “disturbing trend” undermining the ability of aid organizations to work in Afghanistan where some 23 million people – more than half the country’s population – need help.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would consider any ban on Afghan women working for the United Nations in their country “unacceptable and, frankly, unthinkable,” he said.
Spokesmen for the Taliban administration and the Afghan information ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Two UN sources told Reuters that concerns about enforcing the ban had prompted the United Nations to ask all staff to stay away from the office for 48 hours.
“We are still looking at how this development will affect operations in the country and we expect to have more meetings with the de facto authorities tomorrow in Kabul. We are trying to seek some clarity,” Dujarric said.
“We don’t have anything in writing at the moment.”
The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) earlier on Tuesday expressed concern that female staff in the eastern province of Nangarhar had been banned from reporting to work.
“UN national staff (male and female) will not come to UN offices for 48 hours due to the threat of implementing a ban on female national staff in light of the implementation starting today in Jalalabad,” it said. a senior UN official told Reuters, referring to the capital of Nangarhar.
Friday and Saturday are normally weekend days at UN offices in Afghanistan, meaning staff would not return until Sunday at the earliest.
The Taliban administration, which took power after US-led forces withdrew from Afghanistan after 20 years of war, says it respects women’s rights in accordance with a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Since toppling the Western-backed government in Kabul, the Taliban have tightened controls on women’s access to public life, including banning women from university and closing most girls’ high schools.
In December, Taliban authorities banned most female NGO workers from working, which aid workers say has made it harder to reach female beneficiaries and could prompt donors to withhold funds.
The restrictions initially did not apply to the United Nations and some other international organizations. In January, the UN Deputy Secretary-General highlighted concerns that authorities could then restrict Afghan women working in international organizations.
It was not immediately clear whether foreign embassies in Kabul had received similar instructions for female personnel.
The ban on female UN staff could pose major challenges to ongoing UN operations in Afghanistan. Article 8 of its governing charter requires the UN to place no restrictions on men and women working for UN agencies.
Aid officials have also pointed to the risk that donor countries will cut funding out of frustration over restrictions on women as other international crises unfold.
The UN’s major humanitarian response plan for Afghanistan for 2023 has received less than 5% of its funding requirements, currently the lowest-paid aid operation globally.
A planned UN conference to update member states, including donors, on the situation in Afghanistan in New York on Tuesday was postponed at the last minute without explanation.
Reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Michelle Nichols; editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Mark Heinrich
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