Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Taliban’s Women Ban Forces UN into ‘Appalling Choice’


The United Nations is facing a difficult decision on whether to continue its operations in Afghanistan after the Taliban government banned women from working for the organisation. Since taking power in 2021, the Taliban has imposed several restrictions on Afghan women, including banning them from higher education and many government jobs. In December 2021, they banned Afghan women from working for domestic and foreign non-governmental organisations, and on April 4, extended that ban to UN offices across the country.

In response, the UN mission in Afghanistan released a statement on Tuesday, stating that the ban was “unlawful under international law, including the UN Charter, and for that reason, the United Nations cannot comply”. The statement further noted that the Taliban de facto authorities were seeking to force the UN into making an “appalling choice” between staying and delivering support to the Afghan people and standing by the norms and principles it is duty-bound to uphold.

The UN employs approximately 400 Afghan women in the country, with local employees making up the bulk of that figure. Earlier this month, UN humanitarian coordinator in Afghanistan Ramiz Alakbarov said that the decree violated the world body’s charter. “It is absolutely clear that no authority can give instructions to the United Nations … on who should be employed,” he told the AFP news agency. “We are not going to make an exception.”

Since the ban was announced, the UN has ordered all its Afghan staff, men and women, not to report to the offices until further notice. The ban triggered international outrage, with the Taliban authorities coming under severe criticism. They have so far not issued any clarification or reason for the UN ban.

In total, there are about 3,300 Afghans in the country’s 3,900-strong UN workforce. Many non-governmental organisations suspended all operations in the country in protest after the ban on women staff was announced in December, piling further misery on Afghanistan’s citizens, half of whom face hunger, according to aid agencies.

It was agreed after days of discussion that women working in the health sector would be exempt from the decree, although the UN also enjoyed a general exemption. The restriction will also hamper donation-raising efforts by the UN at a time when Afghanistan is enduring one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, UN officials have said.

The UN airlifted $1.8bn into Afghanistan between December 2021 and January 2023, funding an aid lifeline for the nation’s 38 million citizens and shoring up the domestic economy.

The increasing curbs on Afghan women are reminiscent of the Taliban’s first takeover of Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001, when the UN said they were responsible for repeated human rights violations – particularly against girls and women. In other restrictions placed on Afghan women since 2021, teenage girls have been barred from secondary school, women have been pushed out of many government jobs, prevented from travelling without a male relative and ordered to cover up outside the home, ideally with a burqa. Women have also been banned from universities and are not allowed to enter parks, gyms or public baths.

The UN has made it clear that any negative consequences of this crisis for the Afghan people will be the responsibility of the de facto authorities. The Taliban must be held accountable for their actions and must be made to understand that their treatment of Afghan women is unacceptable. The international community must continue to pressure the Taliban to reverse their discriminatory policies and allow Afghan women to participate fully in society.

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