We asked one of Afghanaid's female members of staff in Afghanistan to share her view on the recent ban of women NGO workers.

It was a typical Thursday on 22nd December 2022 as I left the Afghanaid office for the weekend. I never thought however that it could be my last day working in the office, as the ban on women working in NGOs was announced just two days later.

“In December, Afghanaid had just signed at least 3 new contracts for delivering humanitarian assistance projects over the winter. This winter is particularly harsh, so these new projects were going to be a massive help for the people in our working areas. It was a challenging year for me personally, but I was happy with my performance at work as the year was ending. 

“I have been the main income earner for my family for the past year after everyone else lost their income sources due to the growing economic decline in Afghanistan. But my job has been more than just a livelihood for me. Working has been a way for me to cope with all the stress I feel because of the dire situation of women’s rights in my country. I am sure it has been the same for my other female colleagues as well. 

“I found out about the new decree because my friend texted me about it and sent a copy of the letter signed by the Ministry of Economy. I was shocked because it came out of nowhere. When the Taliban took over Afghanistan, I expected them to announce such a ban at that time. But 1.5 years later, it is difficult to understand the real motivations and intentions behind the ban. But I was disappointed and disheartened more than anything else. 

“All human beings should have the right to work and earn an income. NGOs have always been in a unique position where women have had the opportunity to grow professionally and gain financial independence, regardless of all the barriers created by different regimes. And in return these women have been instrumental in enabling NGOs to reach women and girls across the country. Therefore, by banning NGOs from employing women, many avenues for improving women's living conditions in Afghanistan will be closed. 

“The public sphere for women in Afghanistan was already extremely limited but after the two recent decrees which deprive women from their basic rights to get an education and to work, I see that we are being completely erased from society. 

I am infuriated and disheartened that the Taliban are turning a blind eye on the immense suffering Afghan people are going through.

“The humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is very real, and this ban is significantly disrupting the ability of aid organisations to deliver assistance to the most vulnerable population, who are women and girls. It clearly violates humanitarian principles and leaves an even larger number of people with no food and shelter amidst one of the harshest winters in the country. I am infuriated and disheartened that the Taliban are turning a blind eye on the immense suffering Afghan people are going through.

“Every day on my way to the office, I would see a lot of daily wage labourers standing in the streets from very early in the morning waiting for someone to ask them to work. Many of my relatives who lost their jobs now completely rely on remittance. These were all middle class families before the Taliban takeover. Those who graduated from university haven't been able to find a job. The salaries of most government employees were cut by 50%. Those who are retired have not gotten their pensions at all since the Taliban takeover. The private sector has largely collapsed as on most job portals the only job advertisements are those from the NGOs. In the last few weeks, different news channels reported that around 160 people, most of whom were women and children, have died in different parts of the country because of the freezing cold weather. I am sure that in reality, the actual numbers will be much more than that.

“I still cannot believe that women are now told simply not to exist while just a few years ago women’s rights and girls’ education were noted among the biggest achievements of the international community’s presence in Afghanistan. Therefore, now I implore the donor countries and the international community to find ways for reversing this ban. I believe that they owe this to the Afghan people.

“I definitely refuse to lose hope, but unfortunately right now, it doesn't seem like a major breakthrough will happen any time soon.”

Afghanaid's recent developments

Afghanaid's ability to find principled and effective ways to support women with urgent and lifesaving assistance continues to evolve. 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 work to deliver life-saving and life-changing assistance.

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. Want to find out more about our ongoing response?

Read our explainer

Header image: A woman and child at an Afghanaid food distribution centre, Richard Pohle/The Times