The UN Security Council on Tuesday called for the full, equal and meaningful participation of women and girls in Afghanistan, denouncing a ban by the Taliban-led administration on women attending universities or working for humanitarian aid groups.
In a statement agreed by consensus, the 15-member council said the ban on women and girls attending high school and university in Afghanistan “represents an increasing erosion for the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
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The council added that the ban “would have a significant and immediate impact for humanitarian operations in country”, including those of the United Nations.
On Saturday, Afghanistan’s rulers banned women from working in non-governmental organisations, saying the move was justified because some of the workers had not adhered to their interpretation of Islamic dress code.
The Taliban had already suspended university education for women and secondary schooling for girls.
The international community has made respecting women’s rights a sticking point in negotiations with the Taliban government for its recognition and the restoration of aid.
“These restrictions contradict the commitments made by the Taliban to the Afghan people as well as the expectations of the international community,” said the Security Council, which also expressed its full support for the UN political mission in Afghanistan, known as UNAMA.
UNAMA has urged the Taliban administration to reverse the ban that charities fear will worsen winter hardships.
“Millions of Afghans need humanitarian assistance and removing barriers is vital,” UNAMA said in the statement, adding that its acting head and humanitarian coordinator, Ramiz Alakbarov, had met the economy minister, Mohammad Hanif.
The directives barring women from working at NGOs came from Hanif’s ministry. The orders do not apply directly to the UN, but many of its programmes are carried out by NGOs subject to the order.
Four big global NGOs, whose humanitarian efforts have reached millions of Afghans, already announced they were suspending operations on Sunday. Other smaller NGOs have also announced suspensions, including United Kingdom-based Islamic Relief Worldwide.
The NGOs said they are unable to run their programmes without female staff. More than half the population relies on humanitarian aid, according to aid agencies. Basic aid becomes more critical during the mountainous nation’s harsh winter.
NGOs are also a critical source of employment for tens of thousands of Afghans, particularly women, as the local economy has collapsed following the withdrawal of United States-led foreign forces and the subsequent Taliban takeover last year.