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Taliban bans women from working for NGOs

Women’s freedoms have been further curtailed in Afghanistan, after the Taliban barred them from working for non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The Islamist rulers said female NGO staff had broken strict dress codes.

The edict has been condemned by the organisations themselves, as well as the UN. It comes just days after female students were banned from universities.

Female Afghan NGO workers acting as the main earners in their household told the BBC of their fear and helplessness.

One asked: “If I cannot go to my job, who can support my family?” Another breadwinner called the news “shocking” and insisted she had complied with the Taliban’s strict dress code.

A third woman questioned the Taliban’s “Islamic morals”, saying she would now struggle to pay her bills and feed her children.

“The world is watching us and doing nothing,” said another female interviewee. The BBC is not publishing the women’s names in order to protect them.

Saturday’s order came in a letter from the Ministry of Economy to both national and international NGOs. It threatened to cancel the licence of any organisation that did not swiftly comply.

By way of explanation, it said women were breaking Sharia law by failing to wear the hijab.

The move has sparked international outrage, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying it could disrupt aid deliveries and prove “devastating” to millions of Afghans.

It was also described as a “clear breach of humanitarian principles” by a senior United Nations official.

UN agencies have a significant presence in the country, carrying out relief and development work. An urgent meeting of the Humanitarian Country Team was planned for Sunday to respond to the news.

An employee of Save the Children told BBC News the organisation was planning to meet Taliban authorities, amid worries some NGOs would have to close if they could not employ women.

It is also feared that Afghan women could be left unable to receive aid directly, if organisations are only allowed to employ men. Taliban rules prevent men from working with women.

Female employees were “essential” for reaching other women and girls, explained Melissa Cornet from Care International.

She added: “Without them, the humanitarian situation might deteriorate rapidly, in a situation where most of the country is already facing life-threatening levels of hunger.”

The South Asian branch of Amnesty International described the ban as “yet another deplorable attempt to erase women from the political, social and economic spaces” of Afghanistan.

One doctor working in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and nearby remote villages said she was “sad and devastated” at the development.

She predicted “great difficulty” for women trying to access medical treatment, as they “can’t fully tell their problems to men”.

Meanwhile, one imam – whose identity is again being protected by the BBC – said the Taliban was “not committed to any Islamic value”.

He explained: “Islam has not said that men can educate and women cannot. Or men can work and women cannot. We are confused about this decision.”

A ban on women attending Afghan universities earlier this week met similar criticism. It triggered protests – including in Herat on Saturday – which were rapidly suppressed by the Taliban.

Since seizing back control of the country last year, the group has steadily restricted women’s rights – despite promising its rule would be softer than the regime seen in the 1990s.

As well as the ban on female university students – now being enforced by armed guards – secondary schools for girls remain closed in most provinces.

Women have also been prevented from entering parks and gyms, among other public places.

Additional reporting by Haniya Ali

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