Three leading aid agencies resume work in Afghanistan

Taliban’s ban on employment of female workers by non-governmental organisations had led four agencies to suspend operations

Three leading international aid agencies have resumed some operations in Afghanistan after receiving Taliban assurances that women can work in several fields despite last month’s blanket ban on the employment of female workers by non-governmental organisations.

In response to the ban, four agencies with large programmes had suspended operations until female staff returned to work. The Taliban said it had barred women for failing to observe its ultra-conservative dress code.

International Rescue Committee (IRC) spokeswoman Nancy Dent said the Taliban’s health ministry last week “offered assurances that female health staff, and those working in office support roles, can resume working”. Consequently, the IRC “has restarted health and nutrition services through our static and mobile health teams in four [out of 34] provinces”.

Save The Children said it would resume some of its activities but, “with the overarching ban still in place”, activities without reliable Taliban permission “remain on hold”. The activities to be restarted “will provide vital assistance, but these activities are only the tip of the iceberg of what’s required”, said agency spokeswoman Samantha Halyk.


The relief agency Care welcomed “the opportunity to resume our health and nutrition operations given the scope of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan”.

The fourth agency, the Norwegian Refugee Council, has not resumed operations. Secretary general Jan Egeland told the BBC that even after assurances from the Kabul authorities, the situation remained unclear. After the ban male and female teachers, school administrators and doctors and nurses “continued to work”, he said.

The ban was “very limited and not necessarily [applied] in all of the country,” Mr Egeland said.

The council had 1,500 staff but “none of them have started to work because they do not have a sufficient green light to restart work”. Taliban assurances were “too limited so that the vast majority of the people are still not getting aid because of this decree coming out of the blue and out of Kandahar, where the emir stays”.

This was a reference to the Taliban’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, who is regarded as the author of decrees denying girls and women access to secondary and university education and jobs.

A decree from the emir cannot be rescinded, Mr Egeland said.

“There has to be a second decree” allowing women to work if they adhered to Taliban regulations. The lack of clarity posed a “risk for female staff because of Taliban fighters or roadblocks [and] the virtue and vice ministry”.

Mr Egeland said that “in the shadow of the horrific war in Europe,” which has global attention, two-thirds of Afghanistan’s people “desperately need help”. Millions were without shelter in temperatures of minus 10 degrees, while while 20 million needed food aid.

While “men and women alike” faced need, he said, “men cannot deliver aid to women” due to gender separation. If female humanitarian workers could not deal with women, the aid would go to “the stronger part of the population” and deprive widows and women, who headed households, of family needs.

Mr Egeland urged the international community to exert pressure on the emir to issue a new edict.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times