U.N.: Afghan female staff banned from work in eastern province

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ISLAMABAD — Female Afghan employees of the United Nations have been banned from working by Taliban authorities in eastern Afghanistan, U.N. officials said Tuesday.

The U.N. mission expressed “serious concern” after its female staffers were prevented from reporting to work in Nangarhar province.

“We remind de facto authorities that United Nations entities cannot operate and deliver life-saving assistance without female staff,” the world body said in a tweet.

Taliban spokesmen were not immediately available for comment and it wasn’t immediately clear whether the ban extended beyond Nangarhar province.

Despite initial promises of a more moderate rule than during its previous stint in power, the Taliban have imposed harsh measures since seizing power in 2021 as U.S. and NATO forces were pulling out of Afghanistan after two decades of war.

Girls are banned from education beyond sixth grade and women are barred from working, studying, traveling without a male companion, and even going to parks. Women must also cover themselves from head to toe.

Afghan women were also barred from working at national and international non-governmental organizations, disrupting the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Women working for the U.N. were not included in the NGO ban, but the U.N. raised fears that women working for the U.N. could be targeted.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Tuesday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has said that “any such ban would be unacceptable and frankly, inconceivable.”

He also said U.N. officials were told through “various conduits” that the ban applied to the whole country.

“We’re still looking into how this development would affect our operations in the country, and we are expected to have more meetings with the de facto authorities tomorrow in Kabul in which we’re trying to seek some clarity.”

Dujarric said female staff members are essential to executing life-saving U.N. operations on the ground, saying that out of a population of about 40 million people, “we’re trying to reach 23 million men, women and children with humanitarian aid.”

The U.N. political mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, is headed by a woman, Roza Otunbayeva, a former president and foreign minister of the Kyrgyz Republic. She was appointed by the secretary-general in coordination with the U.N. Security Council. Dujarric said there’s been no Taliban action regarding the U.N.’s senior leadership.

Taliban restrictions in Afghanistan, especially the bans on education and NGO work, have drawn fierce international condemnation. But the Taliban have shown no signs of backing down, claiming the bans are temporary suspensions in place allegedly because women were not wearing the Islamic headscarf, or hijab, correctly and because gender segregation rules were not being followed.

Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC.

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