In late December 2022, the Taliban authorities issued an edict banning women from working for non-governmental organisations in Afghanistan. 

This ban on women aid workers violates the rights of our female employees and makes the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance significantly more challenging than it already is. The decision to prevent women from fulfilling vital roles in aid delivery could not have come at a worse time. In the midst of the bitter Afghan winter, temperatures have dropped as low as minus 36 celsius in our operational areas and two thirds of the population require urgent humanitarian assistance to survive, including six million men, women and children who are on the brink of famine. By attempting to force thousands more people into unemployment despite the dire economic crisis, and disrupting the ability of NGOs to most effectively deliver aid, the authorities are not only limiting women’s lives, but risking lives.

The scale of the humanitarian crisis right now is like nothing I have ever seen in Afghanistan. Afghan people really need support, especially women and children."

Abdul Rahman Tariq, Director of Programme Implementation and Quality

In response to the ban, Afghanaid, along with other NGOs, paused operations to effectively align our response with the United Nations (UN) and other key stakeholders and engage in negotiations with the authorities to advocate for a reversal of the decree. Since the beginning of the year, a number of senior UN officials have visited Kabul, including Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary General, and Martin Griffiths, the Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs. They have engaged with senior members of the authorities in Kabul, but crucially, have not been able to meet the leadership in Kandahar, from where this edict originated. 

The emerging view is that the Taliban leadership is unlikely to agree to a reversal of this ban and it is therefore more practical to seek a relaxation of its contents via the issuance of guidelines, sectoral concessions and local arrangements under which women could work.

As an organisation that has worked with and on behalf of the people of Afghanistan for 40 years, we take pride in our community-driven agility and our history of finding principled and effective ways to overcome grave operational challenges. This has included operating on the front lines during the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980’s, maintaining essential services amidst the civil war in the 1990s, adjusting to deliver reconstruction and development work under the realities of the first Taliban regime, continuing to deliver assistance through the Covid pandemic and most recently, switching to prioritise humanitarian assistance in response to the economic collapse that accompanied the Taliban’s return to power in 2021.

But even with this well-tested experience, the last two months have been extremely challenging for our teams. It is an impossible dilemma to be forced to weigh the staggering levels of need in Afghanistan alongside our ability to most effectively assist women and girls and the rights of our staff. If we do not urgently find ways to reach families most in need, they will be at greater risk and indefinitely cut off from life saving support - including tens of thousands of women and girls.

There has therefore emerged a strong feeling among our Afghan national staff - who make up over 95% of Afghanaid’s total employees - that where possible, we must urgently begin a phased and principled return to delivering assistance. 

It is thanks to our long-standing alliances with the remote, rural communities we serve and our key stakeholders that we have begun to find local solutions which allow for effective collaboration with local women and men, and enable us to continue to directly reach women with our assistance.

Regarding these local solutions, Abdul Rahman Tariq, Director of Programme Implementation and Quality at Afghanaid, said:

“The scale of the humanitarian crisis right now is like nothing I have ever seen in Afghanistan. Afghan people really need support, especially women and children. 96% of families headed by women are currently not eating enough food each day.

"Our teams have been working hard discussing solutions with communities so that, through the local people, we can still work with women and girls directly without putting our female colleagues at risk. 

"Where we have been able to organise these local solutions and systems, we are restarting humanitarian work that is urgent and will save lives. This includes activities like cash and food distributions.”

Our ability to deliver aid to women and children continues to evolve. We continue to encourage the authorities to reverse the decree so that both our male and female staff can once again deliver the full range of our humanitarian and development assistance with maximum efficiency and impact.

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